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It was while working in the Kent Laboratory building in the 1940s that Prof.Willard Libby and his UChicago associates developed radiocarbon dating -- an innovative method to measure the age of organic materials.And Libby himself, when he analyzed wood samples from trees once buried beneath glacial ice, documented that North America's last Ice Age ended approximately 11,000 years ago -- not 25,000 years ago as previously believed."This radiocarbon dating method was a transformative advance to archaeology and historical studies, allowing the determination of the age of archeological sites and objects without reliance on a knowledge of local customs and history," said Viresh Rawal, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry.The work earned Libby the 1960 Nobel Prize in chemistry "for determinations in archaeology, geology, geophysics and other branches of science." The technique, which measures materials' content of carbon-14, quickly made an impact on archaeology and geology.Archaeologists testing the ages of artifacts from multiple sites across the Eastern and Western hemispheres found that civilization originated simultaneously around the world rather than in Europe.

Scientists soon used the technique on materials ranging from the dung of a giant sloth from a Nevada cave; seaweed and algae from Monte Verde, Chile, the oldest archaeological site in the Western Hemisphere; the Shroud of Turin; and the meteorite that created the Henbury Craters in northern Australia.

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Radiocarbon dating depended upon the discovery cosmic rays, which constantly bombard Earth and turn some carbon atoms in living tissue into radioactive isotope carbon-14.

The isotope has a half-life of approximately 5,600 years, which means that during this period, half the number of radioactive carbon atoms in any once-living substance will convert to nitrogen.

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