The discovery of radioactivity in 1896 by Henri Becquerel, the isolation of radium by Marie Curie shortly thereafter, the discovery of the radioactive decay laws in 1902 by Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, the discovery of isotopes in 1910 by Soddy, and the development of the quantitative mass spectrograph in 1914 by J. Thomson all formed the foundation of modern isotopic dating methods.
For example, a method based on a parent isotope with a very long half-life, such as C method can only be used to determine the ages of certain types of young organic material and is useless on old granites.
Some methods work only on closed systems, whereas others work on open systems.
By the early 1960s, most of the major radiometric dating techniques now in use had been tested and their general limitations were known.
No technique, of course, is ever completely perfected and refinement continues to this day, but for more than two decades radiometric dating methods have been used to measure reliably the ages of rocks, the Earth, meteorites, and, since 1969, the Moon.
he question of the ages of the Earth and its rock formations and features has fascinated philosophers, theologians, and scientists for centuries, primarily because the answers put our lives in temporal perspective.
Until the 18th century, this question was principally in the hands of theologians, who based their calculations on biblical chronology.James Hutton, a physician-farmer and one of the founders of the science of geology, wrote in 1788, “The result, therefore, of our present inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning, — no prospect of an end.” Although this may now sound like an overstatement, it nicely expresses the tremendous intellectual leap required when geologic time was finally and forever severed from the artificial limits imposed by the length of the human lifetime.By the mid- to late 1800s, geologists, physicists, and chemists were searching for ways to quantify the age of the Earth.There are a number of long-lived radioactive isotopes used in radiometric dating, and a variety of ways they are used to determine the ages of rocks, minerals, and organic materials.Some of the isotopic parents, end-product daughters, and half-lives involved are listed in Table 1.Some of the methods have internal checks, so that the data themselves provide good evidence of reliability or lack thereof.