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They begin by cutting off the contaminated outer layers of shells found in the field. A tiny speck of dust in dirty air could alter the strontium ratio of samples and invalidate results.

The clean room is constructed virtually free of any metal fixtures, which could also contaminate samples.

Millions of years later, researchers can determine the age of marine fossils by extracting the strontium and comparing the ratio of the two isotopes with ratios known to have occurred in seawater in the past.

The Pliomax team uses this method of dating in laboratories specifically built for measuring strontium isotopes. The researchers work in a clean room with air 1000 times more pure than that on nearby city streets.

The possibility of isotopic fractionation as an explanation for differences in Sr has been proposed to both authors on many occasions.

It therefore seems worthwhile to point out that isotopic fractionation does occur during the mass spectrometric ratio measurement.

If Rb-Sr ‘isochrons’ are actually the result of mixing lines, the collinear relationship between different isotopic compositions to begin with.

Because strontium has an electron configuration similar to that of calcium, it readily substitutes for Ca in minerals.

Seawater also contains several isotopes of strontium, two of which researchers use for dating shells: strontium-86 and strontium-87.

Scientists have discovered that the relative amount of strontium-86 and strontium-87 in seawater has changed over time.

Tiny drops of strontium dissolved in pure water are collected in a cup.

The process takes place inside a laboratory hood specially designed without metal parts to prevent contamination the could invalidate results.

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