Thursday, May 26, 2005

Dating Rocks

The oldest rocks in the North Island are apparently not far from here, at Whangaroa in the Bay of Islands- they are 270 million years old. Which sounds ancient until you hear that the oldest rocks in New Zealand are 508-560 million years old and the Earth is 4.53 billion years old.

Last night I went to a lecture about dating rocks. Which was a) not advice for singles seeking taciturn partners; and b) more interesting than it sounds. Organised by National Radio and the Royal Society (of scientists), it was part of a series celebrating the centenary of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Dr Hamish Campbell covered some historical ground that I've read recently about William Smith and Gideon Mantell. These two Victorian men's scientific achievements are foundational to much of what we today take for granted about the history of the earth, but because they weren't born into the 'right' class struggled to be recognised and survive financially as independent scientists.

My favourite metaphor of the evening was that the earth is a book that scientists have learned to read: strata are the pages, and fossils are the words on the pages. And the measurable radiation in the minerals contained in many rocks is one of the dictionaries that enables scientists to interpret those words. I feel an artist's book emerging from the preCambrian levels of my psyche in response...

The audience was 95% grey haired (as with most of the events I attend these days- I am getting older interests even if my looks suggest I belong at a different kind of rock oriented event). There were plenty of women there, but not one of us said a word all evening. So it was a delightful surprise when, after the formal talk was over, we were shown an award-winning video made by 3 young women from Kaitaia College about Newtonian Physics. These were funky, smart, teenaged science chicks and I hope that next time I go to a Northland science event the demographics are skewed younger and women have more to say.

1 comment:

rachlovestheweb said...

Yay! science rocks! (he he he)