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The time it takes for this so-called “cavity ring-down” depends on the degree to which the mirrors are imperfect reflectors but also on the amount of light absorbed by the trace gas.To distinguish the two effects, researchers ordinarily measure the reflection losses separately with an empty cavity.

Carbon dating determines the age of archaeological objects, or how long ago a creature died, by measuring the amount of Carbon -14 remaining inside.The time it takes for one half of a radioactive isotope to decay is known as its ‘half-life.By knowing the half-life of C-14 and estimating how many C-14 atoms the organism contained before it died, we can calculate the age of an object or creature at time of death.Although not yet as sensitive as AMS, the SCAR system fits on a table top and costs ten times less than an AMS machine, says coauthor Giovanni Giusfredi.There is also a wide variety of radiocarbon applications that don’t require such high sensitivity and that might benefit from 3SCAR’s compact size, such as studying the carbon cycle in different geographic regions and evaluating drug metabolism.“I think this represents a solid advance in spectroscopic sensitivity,” says Barry Mc Manus from Aerodyne Research, Inc., in Billerica, Massachusetts.

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