To get a mass large enough to handle, you needed to embed your sample in another substance, a "carrier." At first acetylene was used, but some workers ruefully noted that the gas was "never entirely free from explosion, as we know from experience."(4) Ways were found to use carbon dioxide instead.Frustrating uncertainties prevailed until workers understood that their results had to be adjusted for the room's temperature and even the barometric pressure.It was an anxious time for scientists whose reputation for accurate work was on the line.But what looks like unwelcome noise to one specialist may contain information for another.A stronger field would tend to shield the planet from particles from the Sun, diverting them before they could reach the atmosphere to create carbon-14.and "not very attractive."(8) However, solar specialists knew that the number of particles shot out by the Sun varies with the eleven-year cycle of sunspots.One application was a timetable of climate changes for tens of thousands of years back.Many of the traditional chronologies turned out to be far less accurate than scientists had believed a bitter blow for some who had devoted decades of their lives to the work.
From its origins in Chicago, carbon-14 dating spread rapidly to other centers, for example the grandly named Geochronometric Laboratory at Yale University.
Any contamination of a sample by outside carbon (even from the researcher's fingerprints) had to be fanatically excluded, of course, but that was only the beginning.
Delicate operations were needed to extract a microscopic sample and process it.
For example, Hans Suess relied on a variety of helpers to collect fragments of century-old trees from various corners of North America.
He was looking for the carbon that human industry had been emitting by burning fossil fuels, in which all the carbon-14 had long since decayed away.