Willard Frank Libby Developed Radiocarbon Dating | Titanium discoverer

Willard Frank Libby – developer of radioactive carbon dating process

Article Willard Frank Libby

Biography & contributions

Willard Frank Libby was an American physical chemist, Nobel laureate born on December 17, 1908 – died on September 08, 1980. Libby was best known for his contributions towards radiocarbon dating process.

Apart from Nobel prize in chemistry in the year of 1960 he got many other notable awards like Chandler Medal from Columbia University in the year of 1954, American Chemical Society Award for nuclear applications of chemistry in the year of 1956, Elliott Cresson Medal of the Franklin Institute in the year of 1957, American Chemical Society's Willard Gibbs Medal Award in the year of 1958, Albert Einstein Medal Award in the year of 1959, Day Medal of the Geological Society of America in the year of 1961.

Libby is specialist in radiochemistry, particularly hot atom chemistry, tracer techniques, and isotope tracer work. Libby was responsible for the gaseous diffusion separation and enrichment of the uranium-235. He also discovered that tritium could be used for dating water.

He showed that cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere produce traces of tritium, the heaviest isotope of hydrogen, which can be used as a tracer for atmospheric water.

Radiocarbon dating

Radiocarbon dating or carbon dating or carbon-14 dating is a technique of age determination that depends upon the decay to nitrogen of carobon-14. It has proved to be a versatile technique of dating fossils and archaeological specimens from 500 to 50,000 years old. The method is widely used by Pleistocene geologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, and investigators in related fields.

Facts about tritium

Tritium can be represented as T or 3H. Its nucleus, consisting of one proton and two neutrons, has triple the mass of the nucleus of ordinary hydrogen. Tritium is a radioactive species having a half-life of 12.32 years. Tritium is produced most effectively by the nuclear reaction between lithium-6 (6Li) and neutrons from nuclear-fission reactors. Tritium is potentially dangerous if inhaled or ingested.

It can combine with oxygen to form tritiated water molecules, and those can be absorbed through pores in the skin. Tritium is also produced in heavy water-moderated reactors whenever a deuterium nucleus captures a neutron. Tritium is an uncommon product of the nuclear fission of uranium-235, plutonium-239, and uranium-233.

Tritium is an important fuel for controlled nuclear fusion in both magnetic confinement and inertial confinement fusion reactor designs. Tritium is sometimes used as a radiolabel. It has the advantage that hydrogen appears in almost all organic chemicals making it easy to find a place to put tritium on the molecule under investigation. It has the disadvantage of producing a comparatively weak signal.

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