U of A researcher asks for T-shirts to help with carbon dating technology

U of A researcher asks for T-shirts to help with carbon dating technology
Source: (KOLD)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Forensic science is still far from perfect, but with your help, a University of Arizona researcher hopes to close that gap. All he needs is the shirt off your back.

Greg Hodgins is the director of the University of Arizona’s radiocarbon laboratory and has a mission to make forensic technology more accurate.

“We’re a laboratory essentially concerned with time, measuring how old things are,” Hodgins said. “Carbon dating is a tool for looking at the material nature of the past,”

To put it simply, carbon is found in the atmosphere, but when nuclear testing began in the 1950’s, carbon 14 contaminated Earth’s atmosphere.

“In the nuclear age, radiocarbons rose quiet rapidly from 1955 to 1963,” Hodgins said.

He said every living thing was soaking up close to double the amount of radioactive carbon 14 during that time period.

“That’s a signal we can pick up in our instruments” Hodgin said.

The spike is shown across living organisms during that time. Since there was such an obvious increase in carbon 14, it’s possible to determine when someone was born due to the amount of carbon that was in the atmosphere at the time of their birth, however, our bodies renew overtime and it can be tough to tell when someone died if there is only a skeleton.

Hodgins said carbon dating can only give a 20-year range of when someone might have died, simply based off a skeleton. He is hoping to close that gap with the help of t-shirts.

“At this point, I’m looking at only cotton T-shirts because those are produced from cotton which are annual plants,” Hodgins said.

He thinks he can carbon date the cotton used to make garments. Because cotton is produced annually, if it was made during the spike of carbon 14, he might be able to narrow the 20-year gap by knowing the year it was produced.

He specifically needs cotton shirts from 1965 to 2019. He is requesting that the date of purchase of shirts is accurate. He said ideally, he would like white cotton because dyes might add another step or contaminate samples.

If you would like to donate a shirt, he asks you email him at ghodgins@physics.arizona.edu.

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