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Hessel de Vries
was a Dutch physicist and professor at the University of Groningen
The University of Groningen , located in the city of Groningen, was founded in 1614. It is one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands as well as one of its largest. Since its inception more than 100,000 students have graduated...
who furthered the detection methods and applications of radiocarbon dating
Radiocarbon dating is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope carbon-14 to estimate the age of carbon-bearing materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years. Raw, i.e. uncalibrated, radiocarbon ages are usually reported in radiocarbon years "Before Present" ,...
to a variety of sciences. But for his untimely death, he might have been a Nobel laureate. He has been called "the unsung hero of radiocarbon dating" by Eric Willis, the first director of the radiocarbon-dating laboratory
The Godwin Laboratory is a research facility at the University of Cambridge. It was originally set up to investigate radiocarbon dating and its applications, and was one of the first laboratories to determine a radiocarbon calibration curve...
at the University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...
De Vries effect
In 1958, de Vries showed that baffling anomalies in the carbon-14
Carbon-14, 14C, or radiocarbon, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with a nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. Its presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method pioneered by Willard Libby and colleagues , to date archaeological, geological, and hydrogeological...
dates, observed by Willard Frank Libby for Egyptological samples, were in fact systematic anomalies on a global scale, represented in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings. This phenomenon has been called the "de Vries effect". The correspondence with tree rings, which can be counted (one ring for each year), led to a recalibration of radiocarbon dating that was a large improvement in the accuracy.
Murder and suicide
De Vries committed suicide in 1959 after murdering a former analyst at his laboratory, with whom he was in love but who had become engaged to another man. But for his death, he might have shared in the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature,...
, which was awarded to Libby for his radiocarbon-dating method.