Carbon 14 – Cookbook

The Carbon 14 Cookbook

The mainstream portray Ernest C Anderson as a mere footnote in history who can be dismissively called “Ernie Anderson” because he was a lowly “graduate student” who doesn’t merit further discussion in Wikipedia.

Footnote to History

However, as usual, it’s best to take everything Wikipedia says with a pinch of salt because Ernest C Anderson was far more than a lowly “graduate student”.

Unfortunately at that time no instrument was sufficiently sensitive, so my colleague, Dr E. C. Anderson and I were stumped for the time, until we recalled that an old friend from World War II days had a carbon isotope separator with which he was making concentrated 13C for isotope tracer work in cancer research.

Dr Grosse after obtaining the sewage methane proceeded to enrich it to varying degrees (as measured by the 13C enrichment) and Dr Anderson and I excitedly put the enriched methane in our proportional counter and recorded the counting rate.

Dr J.R, Arnold of Princeton joined us for this test. He was a physical chemist as were both Dr Anderson and I, but his father, a lawyer, was an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist and this brought him to us in the proper mood.

Radiocarbon Dating, Memories and Hopes – 1972 – W. F. Libby
Department of Chemistry and Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics,
University of California, Los Angeles

The research on radiocarbon dating consisted of several stages. In the first place, my collaborator, E. C. Anderson, and I had to determine whether the expected radioactivity of living material actually existed.

These data on the natural abundance of radiocarbon in the earth were presented by E. C. Anderson for his doctoral thesis at the University of Chicago.

Radiocarbon Dating – Willard Libby
Nobel Lecture, December 12, 1960

Willard Frank Libby and Ernest C Anderson

Willard F Libby and Ernest C Anderson published a series of papers between 1947 and 1951 that charted their progress with Carbon 14.

Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating – 1952 – Ernest C Anderson and Hilde Levi
Matematisk-fysiske Meddelelser – Bind 27 – Nr. 6

However, their collaboration terminates abruptly in 1951 and [very surprisingly] in the following year Ernest C Anderson and Hilde Levi have their paper Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating published in the Danish journal Matematisk-fysiske Meddelelser.

The evaluation of a problems paper can be challenging because author[s] must avoid falling foul of the libel laws and the [not too] gentlemanly worlds of publishing and science.

Therefore, Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating may be innocently interpreted as a purely scientific paper.

Alternatively, Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating may be interpreted as a cookbook of recipes used by unscrupulous scientists to fudge their results.

Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating - Contents

Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating - Graphs
Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating – 1952 – Ernest C Anderson and Hilde Levi
Matematisk-fysiske Meddelelser – Bind 27 – Nr. 6

Either way, based upon the lack of regard displayed by Wikipedia for Ernest C Anderson, it can be safely assumed that the mainstream would prefer to forget all about Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating because [amongst other things] it highlights the fundamental issue of “Contamination by carbon”.

Contamination by carbon of different specific activity (i.e. different age) is a more difficult problem, since chemical methods may be of little or no use in rectifying the situation.

Processes of contamination may be separated in two groups, viz. mechanical inclusion and exchange or chemical reactions.

In all cases, the contamination may be by carbon older or younger than the sample.

Under mechanical inclusion may be grouped such events as penetration of a sample by rootlets of plants, crystallization of carbonates or deposition of organic compounds (e.g. humic acids) from solution onto or within a porous sample, and stirring and mixing of strata of different ages by the action of natural forces or by human or animal activity.

While the strongly bound carbon in organic molecules is not subject to direct exchange, such molecules can serve as a substrate for micro-organisms.

For example, micro-organisms can break down cellulose and resynthesize other compounds.

During this process, carbon of different specific activity, if present in the surrounding medium, can be incorporated into the new compounds and invalidate measurements made indiscriminately on the whole mass.

For this reason, it may be necessary in some cases to isolate the unaffected cellulose or lignin for dating purposes.

Another example of indirect exchange must be envisaged when aquatic plants grow in a hard water lake and have their specific activity displaced since the carbon they photosynthesize is derived partly from redissolved limestone.

Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating - Contamination

Some Problems in Radiocarbon Dating – 1952 – Ernest C Anderson and Hilde Levi
Matematisk-fysiske Meddelelser – Bind 27 – Nr. 6

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5 Responses to Carbon 14 – Cookbook

  1. Pingback: Carbon 14 – The BIG Fudge | MalagaBay

  2. Karyn says:

    This is wonderful. Ernie Anderson is my grandfather. He passed away last year, and I miss him dearly. He was such a fascinating person. I wish everyone could have known him like I did.

    • George Martin says:

      Strange politics indeed. This guy was THE nuclear chemist,about 10,000 years ahead of Jim Arnold. Everybody knew it! Check out the old volumes of Who’s who in science,the people who lived thru the time. Howard Lyons,late of the University of Northern Iowa,recalls a lecture in which Libby candidly admitted that Ernie Anderson” won him the Nobel Prize”. He was legend amongst the North Shore nuclear instrument manufacturers. Bill Johnston and Ernie were the youngest people hired at the Met Lab,so I was told.
      A couple of real interesting phone conversations with Ernie in 1964 led to a trip to Baltimore. Didn’t like the politics at the Johnston foundation, didn’t like Jim Arnold at all though Johnston was OK and Gordon F,(Libby’s Lab director,replaced by Rainer Burger) were great
      Security clearence,all that 50’s bomb stuff,I was out of there. Hired but never returned. Changed technical focus and thats that. Recall another grad student of Libbys telling me what nasty people the Libby,Urey,Arnold crew were.
      Me? Just a technician at the time. Didn’t need stress in my life. Note that Arnold and Libby himself were real careful about Ernie. He was,beyond a doubt, the real deal.
      Your grandfather was a pioneer.

  3. George Martin says:

    P.S.Dick Crane knew all this well.All long gone.

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