Forming Fossils

Geologic Time

When were radiometric dating techniques discovered?

The basic principles and techniques of radiometric dating were not discovered until the turn of the twentieth century. In 1896, French physicist Antoine-Henri Becquerel (1852–1908) accidentally discovered radioactivity when a photographic plate left next to some uranium-containing mineral salts blackened, proving that uranium gave off its own energy. In 1902, British physicist Lord Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937) collaborated with British chemist Frederic Soddy (1877–1966) to discover that the atoms of radioactive elements are unstable, giving off particles and decaying to more stable forms. These findings led United States chemist Bertram Borden Boltwood (1870–1927) to argue that, by knowing the decay rate of uranium and thorium into lead, the dating of rock would be possible. In 1905, Boltwood and John William Strutt dated various rocks, obtaining ages of 400 to 2,000 million years for various rock samples and proving such dating could be done.


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