M artin Kamen had worked for three days and three nights without sleep. The US chemist was finishing off a project in which he and a colleague, Sam Ruben, had bombarded a piece of graphite with subatomic particles. The aim of their work was to create new forms of carbon, ones that might have practical uses. Exhausted, Kamen staggered out of his laboratory at Berkeley in California, having finished off the project in the early hours of 27 February
Carbon dating is a technique used to determine the approximate age of once-living materials.
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. This article is about metrology, the science of measurement. More specifically, it examines the metrological revolutions, or at least evolutionary milestones that have marked the history of radiocarbon dating, since its inception some 50 years ago, to the present.
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