Category Archives: History

100 Years of Drift: Part 1

Fifty years ago, we finally figured out why the Earth has mountains. But one hundred years ago, Alfred Wegener had already offered an explanation – it took those extra 50 years for his grand idea to catch on. The continents, … Continue reading

Posted in Biography, History, People, Plate Tectonics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Drilling into Hell

They’re going to drill into the Earth’s mantle. This has been an unachieved goal of Earth scientists for decades. This time they really mean it. No stopping before they get the job done. Over the next three days, I’ll look … Continue reading

Posted in Culture, Engineering, Exploration, Geology, History, Oceans, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Third Lucasian Professor

Newton was the second Lucasian Professor, holding the position founded by Henry Lucas, Cambridge’s Member of Parliament. Newton clung to the job for 33 years despite his obnoxious manners and his heretical ideas about religion. He succeeded by hiding his … Continue reading

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Let’s Be Brief

You’ve seen barrels of oil listed as bbl (and sometimes bbls) of oil. And pounds as lbs.  And you’ve thought it’s just not right. Meanwhile, ounces are oz. while the shorthand for the plural of species, spp., somewhat resembles the … Continue reading

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50 Years Ago: How the Continents Fit Together

50 years ago, on October 28, 1965, an unlikely British geophysicist made a map that set the record straight on how the world’s tectonic plates fit together. As a child, Edward Bullard was such a slow learner that his family … Continue reading

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The Morning After

Looks like we missed Armageddon. Again. The world did not end in conflagration, though thousands of people insisted it would. Doomsday 2015 was scheduled for yesterday, October 7, but we seem to still be alive. If you missed the news … Continue reading

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Geosyncline Celebration

Today, September 12, commemorates the 1811 birth of James Hall, Jr., an American geologist (and one of the world’s first paleontologists). Hall was brilliant. But dangerous. And, as often happens in science, his most stunning idea was eventually proven wrong. … Continue reading

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Newton and the Speed of Sound

Would you like to try Newton’s classic speed of sound experiment? Last month, at Trinity College in Cambridge, my 13-year-old stood at the colonnade where Newton measured the speed of sound. Just like Newton, Daniel clapped his hands once and … Continue reading

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Busted by Oil

The list is long. Spindletop in Texas; Drake’s well in Pennsylvania; Petrolia, Ontario; Baku, Azerbaijan; Boryslav in Galicia. And many more. These are places spoiled by the boom and bust, rust and dust of oil production. I wonder if one … Continue reading

Posted in Environment, Exploration, History | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Infinitesimal

I just finished Infinitesimal –  a book that describes how a peculiar new idea was undermined by religion. Careers were ruined; people were imprisoned for promoting this idea that ran counter to prevailing religious notions. This time, I’m not talking … Continue reading

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