For example, techniques based on isotopes with half lives in the thousands of years, such as Carbon-14, cannot be used to date materials that have ages on the order of billions of years, as the detectable amounts of the radioactive atoms and their decayed daughter isotopes will be too small to measure within the uncertainty of the instruments.
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A fossil can be studied to determine what kind of organism it represents, how the organism lived, and how it was preserved.
However, by itself a fossil has little meaning unless it is placed within some context.
Despite seeming like a relatively stable place, the Earth's surface has changed dramatically over the past 4.6 billion years.
Mountains have been built and eroded, continents and oceans have moved great distances, and the Earth has fluctuated from being extremely cold and almost completely covered with ice to being very warm and ice-free.
For example, based on the primate fossil record, scientists know that living primates evolved from fossil primates and that this evolutionary history took tens of millions of years.
By comparing fossils of different primate species, scientists can examine how features changed and how primates evolved through time.
The age of the fossil must be determined so it can be compared to other fossil species from the same time period.
Understanding the ages of related fossil species helps scientists piece together the evolutionary history of a group of organisms.
The idea behind this meeting was to strengthen the research field of cell polarity by allowing some of the main players to get together in a more ‘intimate’ environment to share knowledge and ideas. Now, bearing in mind that this conference is being organised by a collection of scientists with an interest in using computers to solve large scale biological problems, that your group of scientists don’t easily divide into two equal groups and that your organisers are all pretty much a massive collection of bio-computing nerds.