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At the time, no radiation-detecting instrument (such as a Geiger counter) was sensitive enough to detect the small amount of carbon-14 that Libby’s experiments required.Libby reached out to Aristid von Grosse (1905–1985) of the Houdry Process Corporation who was able to provide a methane sample that had been enriched in carbon-14 and which could be detected by existing tools.Korff predicted that the reaction between these neutrons and nitrogen-14, which predominates in the atmosphere, would produce carbon-14, also called radiocarbon.Libby cleverly realized that carbon-14 in the atmosphere would find its way into living matter, which would thus be tagged with the radioactive isotope.Using this sample and an ordinary Geiger counter, Libby and Anderson established the existence of naturally occurring carbon-14, matching the concentration predicted by Korff. Fortunately, Libby’s group developed an alternative. They surrounded the sample chamber with a system of Geiger counters that were calibrated to detect and eliminate the background radiation that exists throughout the environment.The assembly was called an “anti-coincidence counter.” When it was combined with a thick shield that further reduced background radiation and a novel method for reducing samples to pure carbon for testing, the system proved to be suitably sensitive.
(Fortunately for him, this was later proven to be generally true.) For the second factor, it would be necessary to estimate the overall amount carbon-14 and compare this against all other isotopes of carbon.
Finally, Libby had a method to put his concept into practice. The circular arrangement of Geiger counters (center) detected radiation in samples while the thick metal shields on all sides were designed to reduce background radiation.