June 2, 2011 - Happy Birthday, Clair Patterson

He reached into the past and computed the age of the Earth.
His reach for the future got the lead out...

Born in Iowa on this day in 1922, Patterson developed the uranium-lead radiometric dating method into lead-lead dating using lead isotopes, and he was able to calculate that the age of the Earth is approximately 4.55 billion years. This is really close to today's estimate of 4.54 billion years!

Another of Patterson's most important contributions was his work on lead contamination. He first encountered lead contamination while still a graduate student, and he began to study lead concentrations in the air and in the food chain, evaluating the health problems caused by the then-current levels. Due to Patterson's research and his campaign to change industrial practices and lower the lead contamination levels, laws were passed that banned lead additives to gasoline and lead solder in food cans.

Since lead poisoning can cause learning and behavior disorders, abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anemia, irritability, even seizures, comas, and death. So moving a nation from leaded to unleaded gas was no small contribution!

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