Monday, August 19, 2013

“If you look with new eyes you see new things”

Observation is a key skill in the practice and process of science.  Ask Lee Berger.

In The Skull in the Rock: how a scientist, a boy, and Google Earth opened a new window on human origins by Marc Aronson, we learn about Dr. Berger, a palaeontologist who with the help of his son and an assistant found the fossilized remains of an early hominin, Australopithecus sediba (dates to 1.97 to 1.98 million years ago), adding another significant piece to the puzzle of human evolution.

There is an emphasis in the book about the importance of observation, seeing what’s there and not there, and looking with new eyes at areas that already have been scrutinized. In southern Africa, the Cradle of Humankind decades of work have resulted in what scientists currently believe about the evolution of humans.  It was generally felt that there wasn't much left to look for ground level and research would predominantly continue in science labs.

Dr. Berger, however, using GPS coordinates and Google Earth found a fresh perspective about this very terrain he’d been working in for the last 17 years.  New features emerged that had previously gone unnoticed.  “He and generations of previous scientists had been blind – seeing only what they expected to see.” (p.33)

The book is a fascinating read.  We learn how Lee Berger came to be interested in this field and some of his experiences.  The book is divided into short chapters with lots of photographs.  There is a brief list of resources for further reading and a glossary/index, as well.

The part that I found most interesting was the approach that was being advocated by Dr. Berger.  There is a highly collaborative aspect to his work, an appreciation for how science builds upon the work of those who have come before, and that the next stage of work with these remains is with the scientific community as a whole.  His work and his interpretations are only the start of fully understanding the implications. Lee Berger and Marc Aronson to encourage young readers to continue to follow this story as it unfolds are hosting a website, where current research will be updated.

(**Note: the above link does not appear to be working at this time.  The this link takes you to a cached copy of teaching notes for this book. )

There is also an interactive e-book edition of this book as well that may be worthwhile.  Check out this book review by Horn Book

Recommended for middle grades and higher.

Check out today's Nonfiction Monday Event that celebrates information children's books.  Perogies & Gyoza is hosting today.


GatheringBooks said...

I love books like these that puts an emphasis on the beginnings of scientific investigation - and encourages children's understanding and engaging their minds to build on the story as you noted. Its how scientific inquiry and powers of deduction and observation are gradually developed. Will look out for this book.

Template Design | Elque 2007