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The instrument, which uses a new approach called saturated-absorption cavity ring-down (SCAR), is described in The Optical Society's journal for high impact research, .SCAR offers significant time and cost savings compared to the standard approach for carbon dating and could be useful for a host of other applications such as measuring emissions from fossil fuels or certifying the amount of biogenic content in biofuels.Radiocarbon dating is used to determine the age of ancient objects by means of measuring the amount of carbon-14 remaining in a sample.However it is an expensive process which takes place offsite and typically takes six weeks or more which means that an excavation is likely to be over before the important dating information can be obtained.A new spectroscopic technique offers ultra-sensitive optical detection of radiocarbon dioxide.The approach shows promise as a measurement tool in many fields, including carbon dating and greenhouse gas detection.Image Credit: Saverio Bartalini, CNR Faster, cheaper carbon dating Current carbon dating processes require researchers to send a sample to a large facility with an accelerator mass spectrometer and then wait several weeks to get results back.Accelerator mass spectrometry measures the amount of carbon-14, or radiocarbon, present in a sample, which can be used to calculate its age.

Rachel Wood does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.Lifting the barriers Professor Steve Taylor, from the University’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Electronics who is leading the project, said: “It will be a challenge to develop a portable instrument to achieve the required performance, but thanks to this funding we are in a strong position to make a real attempt.” Frank Hargrave, Director of Norton Priory said: “The potential of this new technique is incalculable.Archaeologists will, for the first time, be able to make decisions onsite and within days of sampling.So far the technique has been has been used to analyse both medieval and post medieval bone samples provided by Norton Priory Museum & Gardens, the most excavated monastic site in Europe.The initial results have been compared with the conventional methods and show encouraging levels of agreement.

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