Archaeologists in Action
Archaeologists in Action
Peer review can be a tough time for a scientist. When Alfred Wegener published his theory of continental drift, his theory was dismissed. How could continents move around the world? However, in the years that followed, other scientists gathered evidence that supported Wegener’s theory. In 1952, a U.S. navy geologist named Marie Tharp analyzed sonar readings that revealed the Mid-Atlantic Ridge- a chain of undersea mountains larger and more vast than the Himalayas. Analyzing the age of the rocks showed that the Atlantic Ocean was splitting here, and driving the surrounding continents apart. The data, when peer reviewed, was shown to be accurate. So, despite the ridicule of Wegener’s peers, scientists later gathered the evidence needed to prove his theory. By the 1970s, continental drift was accepted as science fact. (From Geologists in Action.)
The “Scientists in Action” series examines the work done by scientists in particular fields of study. Even within a specific field, there are several offshoots. Each title shows readers some of the history behind the science as well as how scientists are working towards a better future through the development of materials and equipment that could provide more information or improve our quality of life.
Averaging 13 chapters each, the titles feature scientists at work, tools of the trade, recent discoveries, global collaboration and sharing of information, peer reviews of theories, and scientific practices. These practices include questioning, investigating, analyzing, interpreting and processing data, constructing conclusions, and communicating results. All of the books have instructions for a simple experiment related to the topic. Text boxes provide additional information, while mini-biographies highlight the work done by scientists in the field. (One example is Dawn Wright, an environmental scientist with more than 20 ocean research expeditions under her belt. “Deep Sea Dawn” is a mapping technologies expert whose study of the ocean floor, coral reefs, shores and underwater volcanoes will help to preserve delicate marine ecosystems.) There is a balanced representation of both genders in the mini-bios as well as in the photographs that appear throughout the series. The text is easy for readers to comprehend, though the title about astronomers can be quite technical. Illustrations consist of diagrams and both black and white and colour photographs. A table of contents, a glossary, an index, and a list of books, websites and places to visit for further study are included.
Archaeologists in Action begins with a definition of archaeology and the various sub-fields: prehistoric, classical, underwater, industrial and garbology, to name a few. This title covers famous finds, such as King Tut’s tomb and China’s Terracotta Army, as well as the steps involved in a dig, ranging from preparation to a full-scale operation and the global sharing of information with other scientists through journals and attendance at conferences. Sadly, many potential archaeological sites have been destroyed due to war, climate change and rising sea levels. Other topics include available field schools, the work of a conservator, and an experiment which demonstrates the effect of time and weather on artifacts. Two minor criticisms of this title: firstly, for obvious reasons the experiment is done over a six-month period, but unless readers are really into archaeology, they will lose interest; and secondly, there could have been more information about the tools of the trade (though this is covered in more detail in another Crabtree series).
Due to the more complicated information within its pages, Astronomers in Action will appeal mostly to readers who are space aficionados. In this title, readers will learn about two types of astronomers (observational and theoretical) and the work that each does. Several developments in astronomy have greatly increased the amount of information that has been gathered. Data collected through telescopes, cameras, radio receivers, probes, landers and satellites, electromagnetic radiation and photometry has resulted in new discoveries and the debunking of some space myths. Even so, due to the nature of the science, astronomers are somewhat limited in the types of experiments that they can conduct. The experiment included in this title provides instructions on how to make a simple viewer to observe and count stars in different levels of light.
Environmental scientists study the ways in which natural and unnatural processes affect the environment. They conduct experiments on air, water and soil and share their findings with governments, organizations and private companies. The genre of environmental science is further broken into sub-genres, such as mining, soil, air pollution, river ecosystems, ground water, new product testing, marine biology, glaciers, climate change, and sustainable ways to grow crops. One of the foci in Environmental Scientists in Action is glaciology. In this section, there is information about a glaciologist’s tools, such as GPS units on glaciers and satellite photos of glaciers from space, ice drills and thermometers, and hydrophones. It is interesting to note that experiments with hydrophones, underwater microphones, found that the noise of melting glaciers is 120 decibels, louder than a chainsaw or a rock concert, and could possibly harm the hearing of marine mammals. Readers can conduct an air pollution experiment using easily obtained household objects. However, there should have been more photographs or diagrams with the instructions, and the task of counting particles on small squares could prove onerous.
Geologists in Action explains the two branches of geology, physical and historical, but the primary focus of this title is physical geology and those who work in this field. Using lab experiments, field observations, models and computer simulations, physical geologists study the Earth, from volcanology, oceanography and hydrogeology to geochemistry and geophysics, while historical geologists focus on paleontology and petrology. They try to find answers to questions such as what caused the extinction of dinosaurs and how earthquakes can be prevented. The tools of the geologist’s trade include hammers, chisels, brushes, saws, drills, polishers, cameras, microscopes, spectrographs, photos, maps and special clothing for working in the field. An important message in this title is that even failed predictions and experiments are helpful and provide useful information, forcing scientists to question why their methods did not work or why they did not get the expected results. The experiment for kids to try, using a sugar and sand mixture poured between two plastic sheets, demonstrates the degree of a landslide’s slope (angle of repose) and spontaneous stratification.
Generally speaking, “Scientists in Action” is a good series.
Gail Hamilton, a former teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.