Radiocarbon Laboratory



As the province starts to loosen COVID-19 related restrictions, the University of Ottawa has put in place a plan to gradually resume operations in its research laboratories. The AEL AMS Laboratory will be resuming operations in a limited capacity as of June 1, 2020.

Please contact us BEFORE shipping any samples and include tracking numbers in your correspondence. To maintain a safe and healthy environment for our personnel, lab capacity has been limited and processing times may be longer than usual.

We thank you for your continued patience, do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.

DISCLAIMER: The AEL AMS Laboratory is a LOW-BACKGROUND laboratory, FREE OF ENRICHED MATERIAL OF ANY KIND (14C, Tritium). As a submitter, you warrant that your samples are free of any enriched material. If enriched material from the samples (or the packaging in which they are shipped) results in contamination of equipment or instrumentation requiring decontamination or replacement, significant charges will be incurred.

Sample Submission Form

To submit samples for radiocarbon analysis, please email your completed submission form to radiocarbon@uottawa.ca prior to shipping your samples.Please select the submission form below that corresponds with your sample type (solids or liquids/gases):

Submission Form Solids (Excel):
2020MMDD_UOC_Radiocarbon_submission_form_SOLIDS_NAME_EN

Submission Form Solids (PDF):
2020MMDD_UOC_Radiocarbon_submission_form_SOLIDS_NAME_EN

Submission Form Liquids and Gases (Excel):
2020MMDD_UOC_Radiocarbon_submission_form_LIQUIDS_GASES_NAME_EN

Submission Form Liquids and Gases (PDF):
2020MMDD_UOC_Radiocarbon_submission_form_LIQUIDS_GASES_NAME_EN

Declaration for the Dating of Antiquities:
2020MMDD_Antiquities_Declaration_NAME

Please review our Terms of Service:
Terms of Service AEL AMS Lab

Please review our Sample Failure Policy:
Sample Failure Charging Policy

Please include a printed copy of the submission form with your shipment.

We reserve the right to refuse any samples we deem inappropriate for analysis.

Shipping Instructions

  1. Courier or ship samples with registered post (please indicate the tracking number in your correspondence).
  2. Please inform us prior to shipping if you are sending hazardous material.
  3. Classify material as, "Geologically inert samples for destructive scientific analysis - no commercial value".
  4. Send only the material you would like dated
  5. Customs charges are the responsibility of the submitter; they will be included on your invoice.
  6. For solid organic samples:

  • Dried material is best (freeze-dried or oven dried ~60°C).
  • Please do not use non-stick tin-foil.
    1. For water and gas samples:

  • Please review our Water Sampling Protocol.
  • Ship your samples in a cooler with plenty of padding/wrapping between glass bottles.
  • Mailing Address

    Radiocarbon Laboratory
    AEL-AMS Lab, University of Ottawa
    Advanced Research Complex (ARC)
    25 Templeton Street
    Ottawa, Ontario
    K1N 6N5, Canada
    613-562-5800 ext. 6864

    Turnaround Time

    Current Estimated Turnaround Time:

    4-6 weeks (upon sample receipt)

    Updated: 2020-02-26

    Please inform us of any project deadlines, we will do our best to accommodate your request.

    Sample Materials

    Physical and chemical pre-treatments vary depending on the type of material and the depositional environment from which it came. Below is a list of commonly dated materials, the factors that should be taken into account when selecting material, and the pre-treatment methods that the samples will undergo prior to radiocarbon dating.

    If your samples have been treated with conservation products (e.g. shellac, glue, oil), it is very important to describe the nature of the treatment on the submission form and, if possible, send a sample from an uncontaminated area. Please select your sample material(s) below for more details regarding collection and preparation.

    For the analysis of bone samples, collagen is extracted (media code “B”). Always send clean and dry bone samples as damp samples may contain mold which can cause deterioration of the collagen. The hard part of the bone (cortical bone)  is ideal, we typically avoid the spongy part.

    Please pre-screen bone samples prior to shipping to the lab. Bone samples can fail to produce collagen if the collagen has been degraded or the bone has been charred. Since collagen holds the inorganic part of the bone together, the easiest way to test for suitability is to try to scrape the bone with a scalpel or snap the bone by hand. If the bone is friable and easy to scrape or snap (for the exception of small ribs or bird bones), the collagen has likely been degraded. Where bones fail to produce collagen in the lab, we will try a second time. The first two failed attempts are never charged, but we reserve the right to charge for the collagen extraction at the discretion of laboratory personnel, especially if the bone has a negligible nitrogen content (as measured in the lab).

    For teeth, the dentine is most reliable for dating as the enamel exchanges carbon with the environment. The tooth root (which is dentine) may have better collagen preservation if it was protected for some time in the bone. Dentine also has a higher initial collagen content.

    Ultrafiltration (media code “BU”) may be requested. The theory is that is ultrafiltration will concentrate longer intact protein molecules and can be used to remove shorter chain proteins more likely to originate from contaminants.

    For δ13C and δ15N, we submit the extracted collagen to our partner lab, the Jan Veizer Stable Isotope Laboratory. Please indicate on the submission form if you would like stable isotope measurements (media code, “CN”). Only sample with sufficient collagen remaining after AMS analysis will be submitted for stable isotopes.

    The radiocarbon age of wood corresponds to the growth year of the ring. Depending on the research question, the most appropriate date will often be from either the outer tree rings or small twigs. The majority of wood samples will undergo AAA pre-treatment (see Crann et al. 2017), but where year to year differences in F14C are desired, individual tree rings will undergo an α-cellulose extraction upon request. Try to ship only dry wood and please remove the bark if you can.

    Charcoal samples should be picked out, floated, or sieved from any accompanying sediment. Prior to shipping, please dry charcoal samples for 12-24 hours at temperatures less than 70°C. Visually inspect all samples and remove any rootlets or other signs of physical contamination. Our chemical pre-treatment methods (media code “AAA”) will remove post-depositional carbonates as well as humic acids.

    CONSULTATION REQUIRED: Where a sample preparation laboratory has been set up in an external laboratory, we can accept pre-treated material for direct combustion. Consultation is required to ensure the external laboratory poses no risk of tracer contamination, and the proper pre-treatment protocols are followed. We will not accept pretreated material without old and modern standards that have been treated alongside the unknown samples. We can provide aliquots of standards.

    Samples should be sent to the lab in pre‐baked (500 °C for 3 hours) borosilicate glass bottles (i.e. Wheaton) with a septum seal (screw cap or crimp cap). Concentrations (ppmC) are required at the time of submission. Ideally, each sample should yield minimum 1mgC (2mgC is ideal); please sample accordingly. Minimum concentrations are required for CH4 analysis (1-2% v/v); please contact us first prior to sending samples.

    Researchers sometimes request to date the humic acid (alkali-soluble) and humin (alkali insoluble) fractions of bulk sediment or peat. The general theory is that humic acids percolate downward and make radiocarbon dates appear younger. However, this is not always the case so it is important to test this method first before pursuing numerous analyses.

    In many lacustrine environments, macrofossils are the preferred organic fraction used for dating. Macrofossils include charcoal, wood, plant, bone, shell, and seeds – not rootlets. We recommend isolating macrofossils with tweezers or by sieving in distilled, deionized water. Identification should be made prior to shipping. Macrofossils (except shell) will undergo the standard AAA pre-treatment. Bulk sediment can contain carbon from more than one reservoir and occasionally this can lead to a freshwater reservoir effect, such as in hard water regions or lakes where old carbon is washed in from the catchment during spring melt or floods. Having said that, bulk sediment is widely used for radiocarbon dating, especially in cases when macrofossils are unavailable. If using bulk sediment, be sure to remove rootlets. For bulk samples, some consultation may be needed to determine whether a simple acid wash (media code “A”), AAA method, or compound specific analysis is needed, but most of the time only an acid wash is performed to give a true “bulk” signature.

    Peat can be analyzed as either selected macrofossils or as bulk material. If shipping macrofossils, they must be rinsed in deionised, distilled or ultra-pure (Milli-Q) water to remove residual sediment, and ideally dried prior to shipping to avoid mould. Bulk peat samples often contain a silty component and a vegetable component. Both can be dated separately or together. Please remove visible rootlets prior to shipping and do not ship in aluminum foil as it may degrade. Samples will undergo AAA treatment, unless specified otherwise.

    Physical pre-treatment of shells involves removal of the outer layer of the shell with a hand drill or scalpel as well as chalky or recrystallized areas to isolate aragonite only. Samples may undergo a chemical pre-treatment in the lab involving the dissolution of the outermost shell in dilute HCl (media code “S”). Very small or powdered samples will not undergo this stage of pre-treatment (media code “SN”). It is not advised to store powdered carbonates for long periods as the large surface area exposes the sample to contamination by atmospheric CO2. If powdering the sample is necessary for sampling by drilling or powdered specific areas, we recommend that this be completed under an inert gas (i.e. N2, Ar, etc.). The powdered samples should be stored in small glass vials and shipped to the lab immediately. If the samples are of marine origin, the client should also provide a marine reservoir correction (∆R) on the submission form appropriate to their collection site to be incorporated in the calibration of results.

    If the use of enriched 14C (i.e. tracer 14C) is suspected at a study site or in a user’s laboratory, a series of swipe tests must first be carried out to rule out gross levels of 14C contamination prior to sending any samples to AEL-AMS for radiocarbon analysis.

    Swipes are conducted by liquid scintillation counter. To conduct a swipe, a pre-combusted quartz fiber filter wetted with methanol is rubbed over a surface suspected of being contaminated with 14C tracer (lab counters, fume hoods, fridge/freezers, door handles, common science store counters, etc.). The user should take care to wear gloves and change them between swipe locations. The filters are allowed to air dry, then wrapped in non-stick aluminum foil and placed in a Ziploc bag labelled with the swipe location and shipped to the lab for testing, along with a printed copy of the submission form. Blank filters (only wetted with methanol) should also be sent. A swipe kit can be sent out upon request. Please contact us first prior to conducting a swipe test.

    Please refer to our water sampling protocol: Lalonde-AMS_14C-Water-Sampling-Protocol