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Making the job harder still, baffling anomalies turned up.

The carbon-14 dates published by different researchers could not be reconciled, leading to confusion and prolonged controversy.

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.

An example of the ingenious technical work and hard-fought debates underlying the main story is the use of radioactive carbon-14 to assign dates to the distant past.

For other examples, see the essays on Temperatures from Fossil Shells and Arakawa's Computation Device.

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.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.By 1950, Willard Libby and his group at the University of Chicago had worked out ways to measure this proportion precisely.Their exquisitely sensitive instrumentation was originally developed for studies in entirely different fields including nuclear physics, biomedicine, and detecting fallout from bomb tests.(1) Much of the initial interest in carbon-14 came from archeology, for the isotope could assign dates to Egyptian mummies and the like.In 1958, Hessel de Vries in the Netherlands showed there were systematic anomalies in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings.His explanation was that the concentration of carbon-14 in the atmosphere had varied over time (by up to one percent).Climate science required the invention and mastery of many difficult techniques.These had pitfalls, which could lead to controversy.The best way to transfer the exacting techniques was in the heads of the scientists themselves, as they moved to a new job.Tricks also spread through visits between laboratories and at meetings, and sometimes even through publications.

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