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Nature's Clocks: How Scientists Measure the Age of Almost Everything [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Doug Macdougall

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Kurzbeschreibung

16. Juni 2008
'Radioactivity is like a clock that never needs adjusting', writes Doug Macdougall. 'It would be hard to design a more reliable timekeeper.' In "Nature's Clocks", Macdougall tells how scientists who were seeking to understand the past arrived at the ingenious techniques they now use to determine the age of objects and organisms. By examining radiocarbon (C-14) dating - the best known of these methods - and several other techniques that geologists use to decode the distant past, Macdougall unwraps the last century's advances, explaining how they reveal the age of our fossil ancestors such as 'Lucy', the timing of the dinosaurs' extinction, and the precise ages of tiny mineral grains that date from the beginning of the earth's history. In lively and accessible prose, he describes how the science of geochronology has developed and flourished. Relating these advances through the stories of the scientists themselves - James Hutton, William Smith, Arthur Holmes, Ernest Rutherford, Willard Libby, and Clair Patterson - Macdougall shows how they used ingenuity and inspiration to construct one of modern science's most significant accomplishments: a timescale for the earth's evolution and human prehistory.

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"Rich in historical tidbits." New Scientist 20080712 "A helpful handbook on how we are now able to travel to the distant past." Publishers Weekly 20080407 "The heart of the book reveals ingenious science." Library Journal 20080623 "For time-conscious readers, Nature's Clocks provides satisfaction beyond measure." Washington Post Book World 20080907 "Guaranteed to improve one's understanding." Natl Cntr For Science Education 20120807

Synopsis

"Radioactivity is like a clock that never needs adjusting," writes Doug Macdougall. "It would be hard to design a more reliable timekeeper." In "Nature's Clocks", Macdougall tells how scientists who were seeking to understand the past arrived at the ingenious techniques they now use to determine the age of objects and organisms. By examining radiocarbon (C-14) dating - the best known of these methods - and several other techniques that geologists use to decode the distant past, Macdougall unwraps the last century's advances, explaining how they reveal the age of our fossil ancestors, such as "Lucy," the timing of the dinosaurs' extinction, and the precise ages of tiny mineral grains that date from the beginning of the earth's history.In lively and accessible prose, he describes how the science of geochronology has developed and flourished.

Relating these advances through the stories of the scientists themselves - James Hutton, William Smith, Arthur Holmes, Ernest Rutherford, Willard Libby, and Clair Patterson - Macdougall shows how they used ingenuity and inspiration to construct one of modern science's most significant accomplishments: a timescale for the earth's evolution and human prehistory.


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Amazon.com: 4.5 von 5 Sternen  14 Rezensionen
9 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen How geoloists and archaeologists date rocks, fossils, and artefacts 1. August 2008
Von C. Griffith - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
The main focus of this book is on how objects can be dated using measurements of radioactive isotopes and their products, that is the elements and isotopes that form after radioactive decay.
The author begins with a brief discussion of ideas about the earth's duration before the advent of dating techniques using radioactive isotopes. Here he discusses the duration of the earth as inferred from the Bible, the influence of James Hutton in moving scientific opinion towards a longer time scale, William Smith's use of fossils to come to a relative (that is, the order in which rocks were formed, but not when they were formed) dating of sedimentary rocks, and the conflict in the later half of the 19th century between geologists' belief in a long earth history and the physicist Lord Kelvin's model of a relatively short (20 million years in some versions of the model) duration for the earth.
With the discovery of radioactivity, in the early 20th century it became apparent that radioactive decay could be used a sort of clock. The physicist Ernest Rutherford was one of the first to attempt to estimate geological time scales using radioactive decay. The British geologist Arthur Holmes in his early work was one of the first geologist's to use the decay of uranium to lead to estimate geological time scales. These early efforts were hampered by the lack of understanding that different isotopes of the same element exist, and that there can be more than one radioactive isotope of an element.
As understanding of the complexity of the problem increased, more accurate methods resulted. Claire Patterson, at the University of Chicago and later at Caltech, came up with the roughly 4.55 billion year estimate of the duration of the earth's existence in the 1950s using the uranium to lead decay series, after much difficulty in eliminating laboratory contamination of lead from leaded gasoline. Starting in the 1940s at the University of Chicago, Libby and his graduate students developed carbon 14 dating, which is suitable for dating objects that contain carbon from roughly the last 50,000 years and is therefore useful for archaeologists, and for geologists who study ice ages. One thing I was interested to learn is that the carbon 14 method is the only one that involves the actual counting of radioactive decay; the other methods, such as uranium to lead or potasssium argon, actually require the measurement of the "parent" element and isotope (such as uranium) and the "daughter" element and isotope (such as lead) with a mass spectrometer, because radioactive decay is too slow for practical counting from small samples of these isotopes.
Each radioactive method is suitable for different time spans, The uranium lead method is suitable for very long (billions, hundreds of millios of years) time spans, the potsssium argon method for intermediate (in a geological sense!) time spans, and carbon 14 for the last 50,000 years or so. Because carbon 14 is produced at varying rates over time in the upper atmosphere (from the interaction of cosmic radiation with molecules in the air), to improve its accuracy it is calibrated with (mainly) tree ring data. The calibration at the moment goes back about 26,000 years.
Recent developments have allowed for collecting information from smaller samples, such as individual crystals of zircon,
I found the book easy to read. The author includes two appendices with some discussion of the mathematics of radioactive decay, a chart of the geological time scale, and the periodic table of the chemical elements.
6 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Simply brilliant 30. Juli 2010
Von James Wagner - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch
Nature's Clocks is about the history of dating the age of the earth, from Newton to Kelvin to Marie Curie and many other scientists who made important contributions to this subject. Though McDougall also lightly touches on other dating methods like tree rings, the bulk of the book deals with radiometric dating and carbon-14 dating and how it relates to geology, archaeology etc.

What makes this book an absolute gem are two things. Firstly, McDougall has interesting anecdotes about lots of discoveries and the scientists who discovered them - this really makes the subject come alive. Secondly, he makes difficult topics like radiometric dating accessible in layman-friendly terms, and in great detail.

Highly recommended to anyone interested in how the earth is dated.
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen so that's how they do it! 21. Februar 2011
Von arpard fazakas - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Taschenbuch
This is a very nice discussion of the various techniques scientists use to date things. It starts with a review of the early concepts regarding the age of the earth. Then it discusses the discovery of radioactivity, radioactive isotopes, and the first attempts to use them to date rocks. Following this it describes in detail the invention of radiocarbon dating and its impact on archaeology and anthropology, followed by the invention of techniques for dating rocks, meterorites, and the earth, with applications to geology, paleontology, and evolution. Interesting links between radioisotope methods and other methods such as microfossils and geomagnetic reversals are discussed. The book is very well written, aimed at the layperson, with a good balance between the science itself and the personalities involved. There are several appendices including a not-too-detailed description of the science behind radioisotope dating.

As with any other good book on the history of science, we get a good insight into the ups and downs of the scientific process, starting from the initial hypothesis through the various attempts to substantiate it, and the struggles to perfect and calibrate the measuring tools. From any good hypothesis, more comes out than was expected. I found particularly interesting the way in which Clair Patterson discovered the contamination of the environment by lead from leaded gasoline while trying to reduce lead contamination in his laboratory. Apparently this research was intially funded by the oil companies, then cut off when it seemed to threaten their product. Eventually his work led to the banning of lead in gasoline. Interesting parallels with the current controversy over anthropogenic global warming.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the topics of radioisotope dating, archaeology, geology, evolution, astronomy, and the scientific process.
4 von 4 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Human Ingenuity At Work 10. September 2008
Von G. Poirier - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This excellent book provides an overview of how things or events from the past can be dated - from when the earth formed to events in human history. As the author points out, although much of the distant past can be dated in a relative way, i.e., by classifying events in the order in which they occurred, the determination of actual ages has received an incredible boost through the use of radioactive isotopes of certain elements. The author weaves this fascinating tale very well - from the discovery of radioactivity, through the discovery of its use in dating ancient artifacts to refining the age of the earth and the timing of milestones in human evolution. The individuals who did the early pioneering work, as well as those who currently strive for greater precision and refinement in this field, play prominent roles in this gripping story which clearly illustrates how science works. The writing style is clear, friendly, authoritative, very engaging and quite accessible. This book appears to have been aimed at broad readership; specialized terminology is well explained when first used in the main text and a glossary of technical terms can be found at the back of the book. But also, an appendix is included that concentrates on some of the mathematical formulas involved, for those who are more mathematically/technically inclined. Consequently, this book can be enjoyed by anyone, although science buffs may consider it a particularly special treat.
1 von 1 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen How They Know 24. September 2013
Von David Hoffman - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verifizierter Kauf
When a geologist says that a particular rock is one hundred million years old, how do you know he isn't just picking a number out of his hat? Well, you don't, unless you decide to study the methods by which scientists date rocks and minerals. I can't think of a better place to start than Doug Macdougal's Nature's Clocks: How Scientists Measure the Age of Almost Everything. In this book, Macdougal covers the basics of the various sorts of radioactive dating that scientists use to date samples. He begins, appropriately enough at the beginning with the realization by early geologists like James Hutton that the Earth must be far older than Archbishop Usser's 6000 years.
By studying the layers of rocks laid down and the fossils associated with each layer, geologists were able to get a good idea of the relative ages of these rocks, a layer on top of another layer is usually younger, but they had no way to measure the absolute age of these rocks or of the Earth until the discovery of radioactivity at the beginning of the twentieth century. It didn't take long for scientists to realize that the unvarying rate of decay of a sample of a radioactive isotope into its daughter elements provided them with a clock they could use to measure the age of rocks and the Earth. All they had to do was to compare the amount of the daughter element to the amount of the mother element, and by knowing the half-life of the mother element, they could know the age of the sample.
It seems straightforward, but the process is much more complicated and took decades to develop. Scientists needed to find ways of knowing how much of the daughter elements were in the sample when it first formed. They needed to learn ways of minimizing any contamination of the sample. Macdougal describes the development of the three most common methods used for radioactive dating, radiocarbon, potassium-argon, and uranium-lead. This last was developed by Clair Patterson, who realized that the unusually high content of lead in the atmosphere that threatened to contaminate his samples was due to the use of leaded gasoline. This discovery drew attention to the health threat of such widespread usage of lead and his work ultimately led to the banning of leaded gasoline.
Macdougal moves on from the development of radioactive dating techniques to more of the more exciting recent uses, including the accurate dating of small grains of zircon to 4.1 billion years, making them the oldest material ever discovered on Earth. Macdougal explains these processes and discoveries in language that is accessible to the non-scientist, without sacrificing clarity or a basic understanding of just how they know a rock is that old. His enthusiasm for his work is contagious and makes Nature's Clock actually fun to read. I can recommend it highly for anyone who wants to know more about radioactive dating.
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