Working with the Radiocarbon Laboratory

Procedures and resources for existing clients

New clients that have not worked with the Radiocarbon Lab before can get started by submitting this form.

Experiment Design and Sample Selection

To ensure highly precise and accurate radiocarbon measurements, samples must be chosen carefully to answer your research question. If you have questions about which samples would be most informative, what types of samples should be collected and how, or what type of organic material from a mixed sample is the best to analyze, please ask the Radiocarbon Lab staff while you are selecting your samples. The more information staff have about your research question, the more we will be able to assist you.

 

Material

Recommended amount

wood (unburned)

20-100 mg

charcoal

5-50 mg

bulk sediment/peat

10-100 g

bone

200-1000 mg

bone collagen

>5 mg

hair/fibers

10-100 mg

carbonates

25-50 mg

calcined bone

1-5 g

Packaging and Shipping Samples

Shipping or Drop-Off

To make arrangements for shipping or sample drop-off, contact us at eeslradiocarbonlab@PennStateOffice365.onmicrosoft.com to make the necessary arrangements at least one full working day in advance of the time you plan to ship or deliver samples. Please attach a completed copy of the AMS Sample Analysis Request Form to this email, and include a physical copy of the form with your samples.

Pressed Graphite

If you are submitting pressed graphite samples, please mail them directly to the AMS Lab at the following address:

Attn: Brendan Culleton
106 Land and Water Research Building 
100 Hastings Road 
University Park, PA 16802 (map)

All Other Samples

To submit most samples (except for pressed graphite) for radiocarbon analysis, please mail them to the Radiocarbon Preparation Lab at the following address:

Attn: Maggie Davis
211 Energy and Environment Lab 
100 Hastings Road
University Park, PA 16802  (map)

Lab staff will contact you when your samples are received.

How to Pack Samples

  • Include a completed paper copy of the AMS Sample Analysis Request Form in your package. 
  • Pack your samples in plastic vials, plastic bags, or aluminum foil. Paper wrapping is not recommended. Glass vials should be well padded if used. 
  • If using aluminum foil to package your sample, fold the edges of the foil. Foil that is crumpled around your sample is impossible to remove.
  • Write legible sample labels, or include printed paper labels in each sample container. Don't write on tape that needs to be removed to access the sample.
  • Please ask us whether samples need to be dried or frozen prior to sending them, or if you have concerns about your sample material or sizes.
  • If you are sending wet samples, send them overnight early in the week, and let us know they are coming so that we can process them quickly. Wet samples can easily be contaminated by fungal growth. 

More information about sample collection and packaging can be found in our Guide to Radiocarbon Sampling.

Shipping Samples from outside the US?

Soil samples are subject to the US Department of Agriculture soil regulations.

Costs and Sample Treatment

Costs for sample preparation and analysis vary, based on the type of sample and your organization's relationship to Penn State. These costs include all required sample treatment.

Sample Type

Internal Rate

External Academic Rate

External Non-Academic Rate

Required Sample Treatment *

Graphite

$86.78

$138.72

$143.06

No treatment

Carbon Dioxide

$136.43

$218.09

$224.92

7

Carbonate Minerals

$179.87

$287.54

$296.54

1, 7

Carbon (ready for combustion)

$179.87

$287.54

$296.54

6, 7

Organic Carbon (requires pre-processing)

$229.52

$366.92

$378.39

2, 6, 7

Bone for Ultrafiltration (incl. EA-IRMS)

$423.47

$676.96

$698.14

2, 3, 4, 6, 7

Bone for Amino Acid Hydrolysis (incl. EA-IRMS)

$496.40

$793.54

$818.36

2, 3, 5, 6, 7

* Required Sample Treatment: (1) Cleaning and hydrolysis; (2) Cleaning and ABA demineralization; (3) Gelatinization; (4) Ultrafiltration; (5) XAD purification; (6) Combustion; (7) Conversion to graphite.

 

Getting the Results

Turnaround Time

Please let lab staff know if you need results by a specific date before sending your samples. Specific turnaround times are not guaranteed, but sample types other than bone that require no special processing generally take less than a month to process once they arrive at the lab. Bone, samples that need FTIR analysis, and small-sized samples have longer turnaround times.

Interpreting your Data

Background corrections and comparison with a known-age secondary standard are included in the per-sample cost. Lab staff can assist with the calibration of radiocarbon ratios and interpretation of your data for an additional cost. Please let us know if you want assistance with calibration and interpretation.

Valuable Samples

While radiocarbon samples have intrinsic scientific and cultural value, some are also commercially valuable. To avoid validating the widespread illegal trade of cultural and historically significant objects, the Penn State Radiocarbon Lab does not analyze commercially valuable objects unless working with an academic or educational institution.

Citing the Radiocarbon Lab and Staff

If you publish or present data obtained from the Radiocarbon Lab, please include an acknowledgment of this facility in your publication. For example, “Radiocarbon dates measured at the PSU Radiocarbon Lab (PSUAMS).”

If specific staff members have assisted you, please include their names in your acknowledgment section. If they made a significant intellectual contribution, please consider making that staff member a co-author on your report. Examples of a significant intellectual contribution include: helping develop new methods, helping to design the experiment, selecting or collecting samples of interest, analyzing or interpreting data, or writing/revising a portion of the paper.

If your research was supported by EESL or IEE funding, please acknowledge the specific funding source in your publication. For example: “Funding was provided through IEE with an EESL Green Grant.”

Leftover Sample Material

If you would like any leftover sample material to be returned, please let us know when you submit your samples, and send us a pre-paid shipping label. Otherwise, leftover sample material will be stored for two years and then destroyed.