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By knowing how much carbon 14 is left in a sample, the age of the organism when it died can be known.

It must be noted though that radiocarbon dating results indicate when the organism was alive but not when a material from that organism was used.

This scintillator produces a flash of light when it interacts with a beta particle.

A vial with a sample is passed between two photomultipliers, and only when both devices register the flash of light that a count is made.

There are three principal techniques used to measure carbon 14 content of any given sample— gas proportional counting, liquid scintillation counting, and accelerator mass spectrometry.

Gas proportional counting is a conventional radiometric dating technique that counts the beta particles emitted by a given sample. In this method, the carbon sample is first converted to carbon dioxide gas before measurement in gas proportional counters takes place.

An age could be estimated by measuring the amount of carbon-14 present in the sample and comparing this against an internationally used reference standard.

Archaeology and other human sciences use radiocarbon dating to prove or disprove theories.

The method does not count beta particles but the number of carbon atoms present in the sample and the proportion of the isotopes. Samples that have been radiocarbon dated since the inception of the method include charcoal, wood, twigs, seeds, bones, shells, leather, peat, lake mud, soil, hair, pottery, pollen, wall paintings, corals, blood residues, fabrics, paper or parchment, resins, and water, among others.

Physical and chemical pretreatments are done on these materials to remove possible contaminants before they are analyzed for their radiocarbon content.

American physical chemist Willard Libby led a team of scientists in the post World War II era to develop a method that measures radiocarbon activity.

He is credited to be the first scientist to suggest that the unstable carbon isotope called radiocarbon or carbon 14 might exist in living matter. Libby and his team of scientists were able to publish a paper summarizing the first detection of radiocarbon in an organic sample. Libby who first measured radiocarbon’s rate of decay and established 5568 years ± 30 years as the half-life. Libby was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of his efforts to develop radiocarbon dating.1.

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