The Remarkable Metrological History of Radiocarbon Dating [II]

TitleThe Remarkable Metrological History of Radiocarbon Dating [II]
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsCurrie, LA
JournalJ Res Natl Inst Stand Technol
Date PublishedMar-Apr
ISSN1044-677X (Linking)
Accession Number27366605

This article traces the metrological history of radiocarbon, from the initial breakthrough devised by Libby, to minor (evolutionary) and major (revolutionary) advances that have brought (14)C measurement from a crude, bulk [8 g carbon] dating tool, to a refined probe for dating tiny amounts of precious artifacts, and for "molecular dating" at the 10 microg to 100 microg level. The metrological advances led to opportunities and surprises, such as the non-monotonic dendrochronological calibration curve and the "bomb effect," that gave rise to new multidisciplinary areas of application, ranging from archaeology and anthropology to cosmic ray physics to oceanography to apportionment of anthropogenic pollutants to the reconstruction of environmental history. Beyond the specific topic of natural (14)C, it is hoped that this account may serve as a metaphor for young scientists, illustrating that just when a scientific discipline may appear to be approaching maturity, unanticipated metrological advances in their own chosen fields, and unanticipated anthropogenic or natural chemical events in the environment, can spawn new areas of research having exciting theoretical and practical implications.