My Favorite 4N6Fact by: Paul Kim
In one episode, one of the forensic scientists mentioned a technique called, “radioisotoping,” which was used to approximate the age of a corpse that has been decomposing for weeks. From the bones of the remains, they can approximate that it was a man that was in his mid to late 50’s; however, they needed a more accurate age to narrow down the identification pool, so the scientist tried radioisotoping.
The background story in the TV show was that from 1955 to 1963, there was a series of atomic bombs that have been detonated and residue of its product, a radioactive isotope of carbon known as carbon-14, scattered globally and was exposed to every single human born after 1954 worldwide. Traces of this mysterious isotope of carbon could be found within people’s bones and tissue which have many unreal uses in the nuclear forensics world. One of its most prominent uses is to carbon date humans, giving an extremely precise age of the victims, due to the carbon-14 timeline embedded right into their bones.
This was absolutely phenomenal and intriguing to me because I knew the rarity of such opportunities for forensic experts and scientists in general. Unlike fingerprints, DNA, and blood splatter analysis…radioisotope is a technique that would not be available to use forever, since radioactive isotopes of carbon do decay and dissipate within decades. I immediately started researching, baffled by this technique. The Smithsonian Institution was one of the first sources I checked because I knew that it is a reliable source as well as the basis for facts that the Jeffersonian Institution of the TV show Bones used.
I learned much more about this topic after reading this article: “Nuclear Bombs Made It Possible to Carbon Date Human Tissue by Rose Eveleth from Smithsonian.com
Basically, since carbon is the essential basis of all known life forms, that specific isotope of carbon also got absorbed into the plants and trees in every part of the world, which was then eaten by animals, and finally, into the new generations of humans.
It’s a fact that almost everyone has a traceable amounts of carbon-14 which allows scientists to not only have a very accurate estimate of someone’s age, but also many other aspects like how long did it take for a specific muscle to develop, or how long and when did this specific bone started to remodel after an fracture, or how long was this corpse in this sealed capsule… the uses of this technique are endless.
What isn’t endless though is the amount of time scientists can use this technique since carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope and has a half life of “around 11 years.” Unless there is another atomic war.
You can read more about carbon dating here.
Forensic Club President
Ruben S. Ayala High School
Chino Hills, California