Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Help in the Search for the Needle in the Haystack

15.10.2014

Heidelberg physicists render usable method for detecting extremely rare inert gas isotopes for water dating

In the earth and environmental sciences, radioactive isotopes, atom variants that decay over time, play a major role in age determination. A radioactive isotope of the inert gas argon (39Ar), for example, is used to determine the age of water or ice. Such isotopes are extremely rare, however – only a single 39Ar isotope occurs in a thousand trillion argon atoms.


Picture of the apparatus for 39Ar-ATTA

© C. Kaup

Hence researchers’ attempts to isolate and detect such atoms remain the proverbial search for the needle in a haystack. Physicists at Heidelberg University have now succeeded in rendering usable an experimental method developed in basic research for ground water dating using 39Ar. According to the researchers, these results open up new perspectives in investigating glacial ice and deep-water circulation in the ocean. The results of the research were published in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters”.

The most well-known example of age determination using radioactive isotopes is radiocarbon dating, which is used for dating organic material in the environment as well as for archaeological finds. Similarly, the abundance of radioactive isotopes of the inert gases argon and krypton can be used to determine when groundwater, deep ocean water or glacial ice formed.

To detect and isolate the rare atoms from water, innovative experimental methods are used that were developed and perfected in the course of basic research on quantum mechanical systems. Scientists at the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics and the Institute of Environmental Physics at Heidelberg University were now able for the first time to use the method known as Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA) to date groundwater using 39Ar.

Members of the environmental physics working group headed by Prof. Dr. Werner Aeschbach-Hertig first isolated pure argon from over 1,000 litres of groundwater. Using a specially developed ATTA apparatus, the team of Prof. Dr. Markus Oberthaler at the Kirchhoff Institute “trapped” the 39Ar atoms and detected each one.

The scientists underscore that this achievement, which culminates years of joint development work, now opens the door to a multitude of new applications for 39Ar dating. “The project is an outstanding example of how methods developed in basic research of quantum mechanical properties can open up new application horizons,” explains Prof. Oberthaler.

The study’s primary author, Dr. Florian Ritterbusch, is convinced that the measurement method can be made even better: “In principle, a litre of water should be enough for a measurement.” These advances should soon make possible the first measurements of 39Ar in glacial ice in the Alps. The researchers also believe that 39Ar has the greatest potential in the study of deep water circulation in the ocean. “To do that we have to be able to take sufficiently accurate measurements from samples of less than ten litres of water,” says Prof. Aeschbach-Hertig.

The pioneers of the new method from the Argonne National Laboratory in the U.S. organised a special ATTA workshop in Chicago in 2012 to discuss possible applications of krypton isotopes in the earth and environmental sciences. The Heidelberg ATTA collaboration is organising another such gathering to be held in March 2015. The progress made in Heidelberg in working with 39Ar once again considerably broadened the range of applications, as the researchers emphasise.

“The new method also represents an innovative expansion of the strong competence in isotope and dating methods that is present in Heidelberg and concentrated at the Heidelberg Center for the Environment,” says Prof. Aeschbach-Hertig.

Markus Oberthaler directs the Synthetic Quantum Systems working group at the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics. Werner Aeschbach-Hertig is the head of the Aquatic Systems working group at the Institute of Environmental Physics as well as director of the Heidelberg Center for the Environment (HCE).

Original publication:
F. Ritterbusch, S. Ebser, J. Welte, T. Reichel, A. Kersting, R. Purtschert, W. Aeschbach-Hertig, M.K. Oberthaler (2014). Groundwater dating with Atom Trap Trace Analysis of 39Ar. Geophysical Research Letters 41, doi: 10.1002/2014GL061120

Internet information:
http://www.kip.uni-heidelberg.de/matterwaveoptics/research/atta
http://www.hce.uni-heidelberg.de

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Werner Aeschbach-Hertig
Institute of Environmental Physics
Phone +49 6221 54-6331
aeschbach@iup.uni-heidelberg.de

Prof. Dr. Markus Oberthaler
Kirchhoff Institute for Physics
Phone +49 6221 54-5170
markus.oberthaler@kip.uni-heidelberg.de

Communications and Marketing
Press Office
Phone +49 6221 54-2311
presse@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de

Marietta Fuhrmann-Koch | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Significantly more productivity in USP lasers
06.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Lasertechnik ILT

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Robot on demand: Mobile machining of aircraft components with high precision

06.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

A new dead zone in the Indian Ocean could impact future marine nutrient balance

06.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

06.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>