April 19, 2016 | David F. Coppedge

New Radiocarbon Measurement Device Promises Faster, Cheaper Date Testing

Dating of artifacts and fossils may become much more common thanks to a new instrument.

Without doubt, radiocarbon dating has been an exciting and contentious process. It has been able to resolve disputes about the construction date of archaeological sites, such as Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem (9/10/03). Creationists find radiocarbon all over in places it shouldn’t be (see Real Science Radio’s list), such as coal and diamonds; evolutionists cry “contamination!” (Note: all radiocarbon should vanish from a sample before 100,000 years). Resolving disputes has been costly and time-consuming. Typically, the best results come from labs with equipment for accelerator mass spectroscopy (AMS), but only 100 or so labs worldwide have the equipment.

What would happen if you could get radiocarbon dates almost as accurate as AMS at one tenth the cost, within two hours? This may become common, if the encouraging announcement from Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Ottica lives up to its promises. Science Daily says,

The instrument, which uses a new approach called saturated-absorption cavity ring-down (SCAR), is described in The Optical Society’s journal for high impact research, Optica. SCAR offers significant time and cost savings compared to the standard approach for carbon dating and could be useful for a host of other applications such as measuring emissions from fossil fuels or certifying the amount of biogenic content in biofuels.

The equipment, which works on a laser cavity principle, is smaller, faster, and cheaper. It costs a tenth of AMS. It might even become portable. Each test, furthermore, is half the cost of AMS, the article says:

The researchers report that their SCAR instrument can detect radiocarbon dioxide concentration with a precision of 0.4 percent, which approaches the 0.2 percent precision of the best accelerator mass spectrometers. The new technique can deliver results in just two hours, with each test costing about half what it would if conducted using an accelerator mass spectrometer.

The researchers estimate the SCAR instrument is about 100 times smaller and 10 times cheaper than the instrumentation required for accelerator mass spectrometry. Its size and cost could decrease even more once the instrument is converted from its current tabletop version to a more portable commercial prototype.

The designers envision archaeologists being able to test artifacts in the field. “This could revolutionize the approach that archaeologists use for carbon dating because they would not have to send sensitive samples away to a lab and wait weeks for a result,” one of the team members said.

We hope radiocarbon dates will become much easier to obtain, so that creation researchers can test samples of coal, diamond and dinosaur bone quickly and cheaply. This technique, if it fulfills the promises, could make possible multiple tests on the same sample by different labs or teams, reducing the credibility of charges about contamination. Many more samples could be dated. There should be zero radiocarbon in samples older than 100,000 years. Enough undisputed radiocarbon-positive results on “old” samples could completely undermine the evolutionary timeline. Let’s get the data!

 

 

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Comments

  • DaveD says:

    This could also make it easier to game the system. If the device can be taken to the field, archaeologists will be able to eliminate samples that give results that don’t agree with what they expect and keep trying until they get what they want. Then they could send that sample off to get it certified at a professional lab.

  • lux113 says:

    This could eliminate the common tendency of using ‘index fossils’ and the manipulation of dates to fit the number that they want it to be.

    Carbon dating is flawed in concept — but hopefully if the ability to date quickly is more readily available those flaws can be revealed more thoroughly.

  • tjguy says:

    Good news for sure! Should be interesting if this becomes commonplace!

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