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By determining how many radioactive carbon atoms a cell contained, Spalding and Frisén hoped they could calculate its birthdate. Spalding’s curiosity eventually leading her to a slaughterhouse on the outskirts of Stockholm.

Standing outside the low, gray industrial building, she watched as horses went in one side and, about 15 minutes later, a worker appeared on the other end, holding a head, neurons and all.

The use of various radioisotopes allows the dating of biological and geological samples with a high degree of accuracy.

However, radioisotope dating may not work so well in the future.

“Had we known how difficult it was going to be, we never would have stuck with it,” says physicist Bruce Buchholz, one of Spalding’s co-authors and an expert on bomb pulse dating at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory outside San Francisco.

But Spalding persevered, and her hard work eventually paid off.

But without knowing exactly when each neuron was created, scientists couldn’t say with any certainty that this was true.

Spalding and her postdoc advisor Jonas Frisén had a hunch that a pulse of radioactive carbon created by above-ground nuclear tests during the Cold War could help solve the riddle.

The bomb pulse has been declining since the 1963 above-ground test ban treaty, creating a sort of clock they could exploit.

Radiocarbon dating is performed on a variety of sample types; optimum sample sizes are listed in Table 1 below.

For samples such as sediment and DOC in water, the sample size depends on the organic carbon content.

The ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-14 at the moment of death is the same as every other living thing, but the carbon-14 decays and is not replaced.

The carbon-14 decays with its half-life of 5,700 years, while the amount of carbon-12 remains constant in the sample.

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