Harrison Brown had become interested in meteorites, and started a program to measure trace element abundances by the new analytical techniques that were developed during the war years.
Tilton Clair Patterson was an energetic, innovative, determined scientist whose pioneering work stretched across an unusual number of sub-disciplines, including archeology, meteorology, oceanography, and environmental science—besides chemistry and geology.
He is best known for his determination of the age of the Earth.
That was the goal when Patterson began his dissertation project, however attaining it was to take considerably longer than we imagined at the time.
Patterson started lead measurements in 1948 in a very dusty laboratory in Kent Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus.
A chemistry set, which she gave him at an early age, seems to have started a lifelong attraction to chemistry. After the war it was natural for him to return to the University of Chicago to continue his education. In those days a large number of scientists had left various wartime activities and had assembled at the University of Chicago.
He attended a small high school with fewer than 100 students, and later graduated from Grinnell College with an A. Laurie obtained a position as research infrared spectroscopist at the Illinois Institute of Technology to support him and their family while he pursued his Ph. In geochemistry those scientists included Harold Urey, Willard Libby, Harrison Brown, and Anthony Turkevich.In spite of those handicaps, Patterson was able to attain processing blanks of circa 0.1 microgram, a very impressive achievement at the time, but now approximately equal to the total amount of sample lead commonly used for isotope analyses. Despite several obvious disadvantages, the method seemed to give reasonable dates on many rocks.His dissertation in 1951 did not report lead analyses from meteorites; instead it gave lead isotopic compositions for minerals separated from a billion-year-old Precambrian granite. Brown saw that the work of Patterson and me would eliminate those problems, so we arranged to study one of Larsen's rocks.As it happened, the zircon yielded nearly concordant uranium-lead ages, although that did not turn out later to be true for all zircons.In any case, that promising start opened up a new field of dating for geologists, and has led to hundreds of age determinations on zircon.In parallel with the lead work, Patterson participated in an experiment to determine the branching ratio for the decay of Ca.