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An example of the ingenious technical work and hard-fought debates underlying the main story is the use of radioactive carbon-14 to assign dates to the distant past.
For other examples, see the essays on Temperatures from Fossil Shells and Arakawa's Computation Device.
One application was a timetable of climate changes for tens of thousands of years back.
Many of the traditional chronologies turned out to be far less accurate than scientists had believed a bitter blow for some who had devoted decades of their lives to the work.
The prodigious mobilization of science that produced nuclear weapons was so far-reaching that it revolutionized even the study of ancient climates.
In 1961, Minze Stuiver suggested that longer-term solar variations might account for the inconsistent carbon-14 dates. Libby, for one, cast doubt on the idea, so subversive of the many dates his team had supposedly established with high accuracy.(9) Suess and Stuiver finally pinned down the answer in 1965 by analyzing hundreds of wood samples dated from tree rings.This was all the usual sort of laboratory problem-solving, a matter of sorting out difficulties by studying one or another detail systematically for months.More unusual was the need to collaborate with all sorts of people around the world, to gather organic materials for dating.A stronger field would tend to shield the planet from particles from the Sun, diverting them before they could reach the atmosphere to create carbon-14.and "not very attractive."(8) However, solar specialists knew that the number of particles shot out by the Sun varies with the eleven-year cycle of sunspots.
It was an anxious time for scientists whose reputation for accurate work was on the line.