A bottle of whiskey masquerading as an 1856 Macallan Rare Reserve, which could have sold for tens of thousands of dollars, had to be withdrawn from a Christie’s auction because its origin was determined as being sometime after 1950.A surprising characteristic revealed the true age of the malt: radioactive particles.Barley, which is used to make whiskey, is organic material, and thus scientists can examine whiskey for trace amounts of radioactive carbon and determine when it was made.
Researchers at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit are now able to tell if a whiskey was made prior to 1950, thanks in part to the nuclear testing going on at that time.Organic material living after the start of nuclear testing contains more traces of radioactive carbon than organic material from before the time of nuclear testing.The boat of a pharaoh was discovered in a sealed crypt and reassembled in a museum near the pyramids (see Fig. The age of our galaxy and earth also can be estimated using radioactive dating.Using the decays of uranium and thorium, our galaxy has been found to be between 10 and 20 billion years old and the earth has been found to be 4.6 billion years old. Within experimental error, this estimate agrees with the 15 billion year estimate of the age of the Universe.Although the radiocarbon dating has helped identify cases of counterfeiting a vintage bottle of whiskey, it can’t always identify the exact date of creation.
Carbon 14 is a radioactive particle found naturally in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
After the plant or animal dies, the radiocarbon begins to decay; scientists use the ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon found in the organism’s remains, along with their knowledge of the rate at which radiocarbon decays, to put an age on the remains.
Although all organic material collects a certain amount of carbon 14 during its lifetime, elevated levels of radioactive carbon present after nuclear bomb testing started in the 1950s makes it so that plants and animals from after that time contain an elevated level of the carbon.
Modern methods in mass spectrometry, far advanced since their development in the 1970s, now enable carbon dating to be applied to a wide range of new problems.
Katherine Freeman, distinguished professor of geosciences at Penn State, uses it to follow crude oil compounds released from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that were taken up by microbes living in sediments of the Gulf of Mexico.
Due to its success in authenticating whiskey using radiocarbon dating, the lab started dating wines, although wine dating can be more difficult because of the variety of organic material used to make it.