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30-Jun-2020 13:08

The prodigious mobilization of science that produced nuclear weapons was so far-reaching that it revolutionized even the study of ancient climates.Nuclear laboratories, awash with funds and prestige, spun off the discovery of an amazing new technique — radiocarbon dating.One application was a timetable of climate changes for tens of thousands of years back.Many of the traditional chronologies turned out to be far less accurate than scientists had believed — a bitter blow for some who had devoted decades of their lives to the work.Any contamination of a sample by outside carbon (even from the researcher's fingerprints) had to be fanatically excluded, of course, but that was only the beginning.Delicate operations were needed to extract a microscopic sample and process it.After a creature's death the isotope would slowly decay away over millennia at a fixed rate.

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From its origins in Chicago, carbon-14 dating spread rapidly to other centers, for example the grandly named Geochronometric Laboratory at Yale University.In 1958, Hessel de Vries in the Netherlands showed there were systematic anomalies in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings.His explanation was that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had varied over time (by up to one percent).A stronger field would tend to shield the planet from particles from the Sun, diverting them before they could reach the atmosphere to create carbon-14.

and "not very attractive."(8) However, solar specialists knew that the number of particles shot out by the Sun varies with the eleven-year cycle of sunspots.

To get a mass large enough to handle, you needed to embed your sample in another substance, a "carrier." At first acetylene was used, but some workers ruefully noted that the gas was "never entirely free from explosion, as we know from experience."(4) Ways were found to use carbon dioxide instead.