Plasmas are used in television displays and in florescent lights, which use electricity to excite gas and create glowing plasma.In Rowe’s non-destructive method, an entire artifact goes into in a vacuum chamber with a plasma.(Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)Marvin Rowe, a scientist at the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies, adjusts the Low Energy Plasma Radiocarbon Sampling device he built to date artifacts with minimal damage. That machine he built, and what it’s used for, helped Rowe win the prestigious Fryxell Award for Interdisciplinary Research from the Society of American Archeology two years ago.“We call the process Low Energy Plasma Radiocarbon Sampling,” said New Mexico’s state archeologist Eric Blinman, who credits Rowe with inventing the process.“But a lot of people just refer to this as ‘Marvin’s Machine.'”The process is important because, unlike other methods of radiocarbon dating that destroy the sample being tested, LEPRS preserves it.It also works on tiny samples – even a flake of ink or paint – and is considered a more accurate means of dating.“With standard radiocarbon dating, there’s a risk of contamination of carbonates.
The machine is used to date artifacts without damaging to the sample.A piece of an organic object – a bone fragment or weaving, for example – is washed with acid at high temperature to remove impurities and then burned in a chamber.The carbon dioxide gas produced is run through an accelerator mass spectrometer, which measures the decay of radioactive carbon 14 – the more the carbon 14 has decayed, the older the object is.This is one of the very, very few sites in Mora County that have been excavated,” she said of the site reported by the state Department of Transportation.A buffalo tooth rests in a tube of the Low Energy Plasma Radiocarbon Sampling machine located in the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies lab.Scientists at the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies use a Low Energy Plasma Radiocarbon Sampling device on a sample of gelatin at its lab near Santa Fe.The machine is used to date artifacts by doing minimal damage to the sample. — The contraption he built looks a little like something you might see from “The Nutty Professor.”But Marvin Rowe is no nut.But “Marvin’s Machine” can date material 100 millionths of a gram or less.Blinman said the process’s capability to date very small samples would allow, for instance, determination of the age of the ink on a Chinese text written on bamboo.(Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)One of a kind Rowe won his Fryxell Award “based in his prominent role in developing methods for rock art dating and minimally-destructive dating of fragile organic artifacts,” as well as his scientific analysis, scholarship and student training, according to the SAA website. Rowe and two colleagues at Texas A&M’s Department of Chemistry built the first plasma dating machine in 1990 while exploring ways to extract organic carbon from pictograph samples.“Other people have been successful dating charcoal paintings,” Rowe explained.“But, in the United States at least, most of the paintings are not charcoal.