Who was the first man to assess accurately the age of the Earth? Who was the leading campaigner against lead in petrol?

Actually it was the same guy: the brilliant American geochemist Clair Patterson (1922-1995).

Patterson’s estimate in 1953 of the age of the Earth was 4.550 billion years (give or take 70 million years). This number still stands although the margin of error is now down to about 20 million years.

Patterson was the most prominent scientist in highlighting the growing levels of lead in the environment and the food chain and the danger this posed to health. His findings and campaigning led to him being attacked by the petrochemical industry and being cut off from research funding.

You can read more about Patterson and his achievements here.

The work of Clair Patterson was highlighted in the most recent episode (number 7) in the brilliant television series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey”.


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