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Radiocarbon played a major role in two Nobel Prizes given in the 1960s. The Nobel lectures of Libby and Pauling are still relevant today to our work involving low radiocarbon foods.
This is a fascinating first-person history on the development of radiocarbon dating. Libby was the first to recognize that natural background radiocarbon in the atmosphere finds its way into all photosynthetic plants and the animals and people which consume them, and could thus be used to date ancient plants and animals. Techniques from radiocarbon dating can also be used to monitor the effects of our proposed low radiocarbon diet – but with some surprising results!
Pauling received the Nobel Prize for his efforts in organizing the scientific community in the successful effort to ban the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. The health hazards arising from a doubling of the carbon-14 levels in the atmosphere from this testing figured prominently in Pauling’s warnings and in his Nobel lecture:
Carbon 14 deserves our special concern… It is my estimate that about 100,000 viable children will be born with gross physical or mental defects caused by the cesium 137 and other fission products from the bomb tests carried out from 1952 to 1963, and 1,500,000 more, if the human race survives, with gross defects caused by the carbon 14 from these bomb tests. In addition, about ten times as many embryonic, neonatal, and childhood deaths are expected-about 1,000,000 caused by the fission products and 15,000,000 by carbon 14. An even larger number of children may have minor defects caused by the bomb tests; these minor defects, which are passed on from generation to generation rather than being rapidly weeded out by genetic death, may be responsible for more suffering in the aggregate than the major defects.