Radiocarbon (14C) is a long-lived radioisotope with widespread applications in many scientific branches such as archeological dating, climate research and life sciences. The University of Bern has a long history of experience in precise 14C measurements. However, an update of the facility was urgently needed accommodating an increasing number of 14C measurements. Therefore, a new radiocarbon laboratory was established at the University of Bern based on accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS).

Lay summary

Content and aim of the research project

The experience in precise 14C measurements of the University of Bern bases on the conventional counting laboratory founded by Hans Oeschger more than 50 years ago. Due to the demanding procedure involved in preparing the counting gas from the organic samples and to the long counting time to obtain reliable statistics, the throughput and required carbon mass of this technique both were the limiting factors. During the last two decades, enormous technical development on accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) has been achieved with the breakthrough of the small instrument MICADAS by ETH Zurich. This small unit can readily compete with the conventional counting method regarding precision but is significantly superior regarding its low requirements of sample amounts and process time. Consequently, a MICADAS system was set up in order to provide the long-term infrastructure for radiocarbon analysis at the University of Bern.


Scientific and social context of the research project

The installation of MICADAS will ensure the successful continuation of radiocarbon applications at the University of Bern in atmospheric sciences, limnology, paleoclimatology, paleoecology, agroecology, and biogeochemistry and create the potential for innovative future projects. In many of these applications, analysis of bulk samples inevitably results in misinterpretations, if the samples are composed of materials from different sources or ages. Therefore, special emphasis is laid upon the investigation of specified sub-fractions of samples or even compound-specific radiocarbon analysis and the coupling of devices for sample preparation with the MICADAS.