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Leading international research at CEZA

The Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry (CEZA) at the Reiss-Engelhorn Museums has repeatedly caused a stir in recent years with spectacular investigations of mummies, Viking finds and on climate change.

Dr. Ronny Friedrich

Now the renowned institute is taking a significant step into the future by acquiring a second radiocarbon mass spectrometer. Radiocarbon analysis is becoming increasingly important in science, but also in industry. CEZA is the only institution in the world that has two corresponding high-tech instruments at its disposal.

CEZA is home to the Klaus Tschira Laboratory for Physical Age Determination, which specializes in radiocarbon (14C) analysis. Here, scientists get to the bottom of the secrets of the past. They use state-of-the-art technology to measure the age of archaeological finds. All materials containing carbon can be dated to about 50,000 years before our time – from mammoth bones to wood finds and textiles to mummies. Climate and solar research is also conducted at CEZA.

But there is another exciting and increasingly important area of application. The experts also use the 14C method to determine the composition of carbon-based products. In this way, they can prove, for example, how sustainable fuels, plastics or building materials are. Are they made from natural or renewable sources such as vegetable oils, or was petroleum used in their production? “With the topics of sustainability and the circular economy, the Curt-Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry is dedicated to major future issues of our time,” emphasizes laboratory director Dr. Ronny Friedrich.

The increasing importance of 14C-analysis in the field of geo-, bio- and environmental sciences was the decisive factor to strengthen the Klaus-Tschira-Laboratory for Physical Age Determination with the acquisition of another mass spectrometer. The Mini Carbon Dating System (MICADAS) is a very compact (3.4 m x 2.6 m x 2 m at 4,500 kg) and sophisticated radiocarbon AMS system that guarantees high measurement stability even over long periods of time. CEZA measures more than 4,000 samples per calendar year and currently requires twelve weeks from sample receipt.

With the same data quality, results can now be delivered more quickly and even larger sample volumes can be handled. Dr. Ronny Friedrich is looking forward to the expansion: “The second accelerator will enable us to double the number of measurements in our laboratories in the future. This will allow us to meet the increasing importance of 14C analyses in both the industrial and scientific sectors.“

Only a few institutes worldwide offer this technology. CEZA is even the only institute that has two of the most modern devices at its disposal, which underscores its position as an independent institute in top international research. The laboratory expansion is a great enrichment for the research locations Mannheim and Baden-Württemberg.

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Rosendahl, Scientific Director of CEZA and General Director of the Reiss Engelhorn Museums, is convinced of the investment:

“The radiocarbon method is one of the most important methods for researching our climate, the atmosphere and determining the age of archaeological finds. The establishment of the second mass spectrometer here at CEZA also strengthens the position of the Reiss Engelhorn Museums as a scientific institution, because research and exhibition projects go hand in hand at our institution. With this important investment, we are well on our way to further advancing cutting-edge research at the Mannheim site.”

Prof. Dr. Wilfried Rosendahl