My work at the UN entailed attending meetings regarding sustainability and the management of Earth’s resources…a sobering session! For the past two years I have be involved with the International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE), trying to help spread the word of sustainability and Earth resources to as wide an audience as possible. My part has been tiny, compared to that many working in the organization, especially Ed de Mulder who is currently pushing for a sustainable legacy from the IYPE, The Planet Earth Institute. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how the education system has failed natural sciences, given our lack of understanding of the environment and resources that we so carelessly use and often abuse. I’m not one for getting on my ‘soap-box’ and preaching about how we should conduct our day to day lives, but when it comes to Earth resources, we tend to be as dumb as a piece of wood when ‘managing’ them. I have to admit that while the IYPE opened my eyes to the mismanagement of Earth resources, it also gave me hope that there is a band of folks out there working hard to bring about change….I step-down from my soap-box!
In Philadelphia I gave a quick presentation on ‘Deconstructing Dinosaurs’ at the Vet School this week. My talk was an attempt to reflect on the work of my colleagues and I, from the fields of palaeontology to the subatomic world of particle physics! The paper publish last Tuesday in PNAS took a very close look with 21st Century technology at an old bird, more than 150 million years old…Archaeopteryx.
the feathers, with no original chemistry remaining. Using SRS-XRF to accurately map the locations of major and trace elements such as sulfur, phosphorous, copper, and zinc, our team discovered that traces of the original chemistry of the Archaeopteryx feathers were still present.
Other results showed that the chemistry of the bones from this 150 million year old bird relative were similar to the concentrations that one would find most living birds, providing a chemical link between this ancient organism and descendant species such as pigeons, parakeets, and seagulls. The sensitivity of this technique also revealed details of the curation history of the specimen, showing how small parts were “repaired” and were not original to the fossil itself. The new technique has the potential to unleash the secrets of chemical fossils locked in the sands of time, only visible to the x-ray vision provided by synchrotron light sources.
After such a busy week, I’m ready for a treat...my first ever baseball game! Tonight, weather permitting (gosh, this is so like the UK) I hope to see the Phillies take on the Pirates...I had no idea that sport could be such swashbuckling fun!