Applications of 14C, the Most Versatile Radionuclide to Explore Our World

  • Walter KutscheraEmail author
Part of the Lecture Notes in Physics book series (LNP, volume 948)


Carbon consists of the two stable isotopes (12C and 13C) often accompanied with minute traces of the long-lived radioisotope 14C (half-life = 5700 years). This allows one to use isotope-sensitive methods to trace carbon throughout the environment at large on Earth. In particular, 14C can be used for dating during the past 50,000 years. It has thus revolutionized archaeology, but also many fields of geophysics. Although 14C is a cosmogenic radionuclide produced primarily by cosmic-ray interaction in the atmosphere, the dramatic increase of 14C by the atmospheric nuclear weapons testing period generated a characteristic spike (14C bomb peak) in the early 1960s, which can be used for a variety of unique applications. After describing the basic properties of 14C, the current review focusses on applications of both cosmogenic and anthropogenic 14C, emphasizing the versatility of this extraordinary radionuclide.



This work would not have been possible without the countless collaborations and discussions the author enjoyed over the years with colleagues and friends around the world.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vienna Environmental Research Accelerator (VERA), Faculty of Physics – Isotope Research and Nuclear PhysicsUniversity of ViennaWienAustria

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