American chemist whose technique of carbon-14 (or radiocarbon) dating
provided an extremely valuable tool for archaeologists, anthropologists,
and earth scientists. For this development he was honoured with the
Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1960.
While associated with the Manhattan Project (1941-45), Libby helped
develop a method for separating uranium isotopes, an essential step
in the creation of the atomic bomb. In 1946 he showed that tritium,
the heaviest isotope of hydrogen, was produced by cosmic radiation.
The following year he and his students developed the carbon-14 dating
technique. This technique is used to date material derived from former
living organisms as old as 50,000 years. It measures small amounts of
radioactivity from the carbon-14 in organic or carbon-containing materials
and is able to identify older objects as those having less radioactivity.
Libby also served on the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (1955-59) and
wrote Radiocarbon Dating (1952).
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