Because of its inherently chemical nature, Pauling quickly became somewhat of a fallout expert, and in 1958 he wrote a paper about the dangers of carbon-14, a topic that had not been discussed at great length.
Carbon-14 is a radioactive isotope of carbon that is not prevalent in nature – it comprises roughly one part per trillion of all the carbon in the atmosphere – but is a byproduct of nuclear explosions.
Little did we know that the bomb didn’t just scar our psyches. Hundreds of atmospheric bomb tests before 1963 doubled the amount of radioactive carbon in the air.
Pauling’s paper on the subject, titled “Genetic and Somatic Effects of Carbon-14,” was based on carbon-14 data acquired by Willard Libby, a chemist who won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the radiocarbon dating technique, which measures the radioactive decay of carbon-14 in organic materials.
Libby estimated that, by 1958, roughly 232 kilograms of carbon-14 had already been released due to bomb testing.
The squee-CHUNK, squee-CHUNK of the vacuum pump forces everyone in the cavernous room to yell.
Physicist Bruce Buchholz peers at an aluminum container the size of a black bean.