Students will learn how radiocarbon dating works to determine the ages of some very old materials. They will explore how it has changed our view of history and the controversy that has arisen from its use. The program includes an activity using M&M's candy illustrating "half life", a concept critical in understanding how radiocarbon dating works. The lecture will end by showcasing LLNL's capacity to radiocarbon date objects at the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (CAMS).

Today you will learn

  • What is radiocarbon?
  • How does radiocarbon dating work?
  • How do we know that radiocarbon dating works?
  • What kinds of things can and cannot be dated?
  • Oldest things that can be radiocarbon dated? Youngest?
  • How much material is needed?
  • How much does it cost?
  • What famous things have been radiocarbon dated?
  • How has radiocarbon dating changed history?

Speaker Bios

Dr.Andrea Cook

Science Teacher
High Tech High in San Diego

Andrea Cook has more than 10 years of experience in conducting scientific research. She has studied such divergent things as the endangered Karner Blue butterfly in Michigan, the arctic tundra in Alaska, CO2 springs in Iceland and Japan, zooplankton in Antarctica, and volcanic CO2 emissions from Mammoth Mountain in California. Most recently, Andrea has been developing a new methodology to extract carbon from iron so that she can radiocarbon date ancient iron artifacts from around the world.

Andrea was the valedictorian of her high school in Muskegon, Michigan and holds a B.S. in honors biology from the University of Michigan and a Ph.D. in ecology from the University of California Davis / San Diego State University (joint program). She has been in postdoctoral training in the Center for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the past three years. She recently changed her career path and is currently a high school science teacher at High Tech High in San Diego in January 2001

Stan Hitomi

Stan Hitomi teaches biology and physical science at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California. He has 20 years of experience as a teacher and has served as a Mentor Teacher for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District for the past 8 years. He is currently a member of the Community Advisory Panel for station KQED in San Francisco, and has worked on science education projects with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), U.C. Berkeley, San Joaquin County Office of Education, WNET-New York, KQED-San Francisco, Access Excellence (Genentec), and the Exploratorium.

While working with LLNL, Stan worked with other teachers to co-author the Biotechnology Education Program, Laser Science & Optics for the Classroom, and Research Bootcamp. Each of these programs focused on teacher development and training, with a strong focus on integrated instruction. Stan currently serves on the Staff Development Leadership Council (SDLC), a national organization whose mission is to study, research, and develop staff development programs. He was recently awarded a scholarship by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to conduct research on teaching methods and practices.