Hessel de Vries

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Hessel de Vries (November 15, 1916 in Annen – December 23, 1959 in Groningen), was a Dutch physicist and professor at the University of Groningen who furthered the detection methods and applications of radiocarbon dating to a variety of sciences. But for his untimely death, he might have been a Nobel laureate.[1] He has been called "the unsung hero of radiocarbon dating" by Eric Willis, the first director of the radiocarbon-dating laboratory at the University of Cambridge.[2]

De Vries became a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1956.[3]

De Vries effect[edit]

In 1958, de Vries showed that baffling anomalies in the carbon-14 dates, observed by Willard Frank Libby for Egyptological samples, were in fact systematic anomalies on a global scale, represented in the carbon-14 dates of tree rings. This phenomenon has been called the "de Vries effect".[4] The correspondence with tree rings, which can be counted (one ring for each year), led to a recalibration of radiocarbon dating that was a large improvement in the accuracy.

Murder and suicide[edit]

De Vries committed suicide in 1959, after murdering a former analyst (Anneke Hoogeveen), with whom he was in love but who had become engaged to another man.[1][5] But for his death, he might have shared in the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was awarded to Libby for his radiocarbon-dating method.


  1. ^ a b J. J. M. Engels (2002). "Vries, Hessel de (1916-1959)". Biografisch Woordenboek van Nederland (in Dutch). 5. 
  2. ^ Willis, E. H. (1996), Radiocarbon dating in Cambridge: some personal recollections. A Worm's Eye View of the Early Days, [1].
  3. ^ "Hessel de Vries (1916 - 1959)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 24 January 2016. 
  4. ^ Jan Šilar (2004). "Chapter 2. Radiocarbon". In Richard Tykva and Dieter Berg. Man-Made and Natural Radioactivity in Environmental Pollution and Radiochronology. Kluwer Academic Publishers. p. 174. ISBN 1-4020-1860-6. 
  5. ^ "Meisje doodgestoken in Groningen" [Girl stabbed to death in Groningen]. Utrechts Nieuwsblad (in Dutch). 24 December 1959. p. 1.