Just before Christmas last year my son, who was five years old at the time, came to me with a really cool drawing of a dinosaur. He told me that it was a Triceratops — and I would like to share it with you.
But the drawing made me think. When I was about the same age as my son I thought that dinosaurs were cool too, but at that time in the late 1970s and beginning of the 1980s dinosaurs didn’t have the same status as they have today. Nobody really talked about them, you didn’t find so many different kinds in the toy store and you did not see them on TV, so when I got older I kind of forgot about them. It was not until I went on an excursion with my class when I was about 18 years old that I re-discovered them. We went to Paris and Strasbourg, visiting several exhibitions with fossils and dinosaurs, and I remembered how amazing it all was. My class mates thought I was weird, but I didn’t care.
Looking at my son’s drawing, I started thinking about the resurgence that the dinosaurs have been going through the last 30 years or so. It took off at the beginning of the 1990s when the movie Jurassic Park was released. At the end of the 90s, the BBC aired an amazing series called Walking with Dinosaurs. I went to see the exhibition based on the TV show in Glasgow and I was really impressed. Children were able to race against a Tyrannosaurus rex — a highlight of the exhibition!
But this resurgence has not stopped yet. Kids learn about them from TV — Dinosaur Train is a fantastic way for children to be informed and entertained at the same time. Sometimes I wish I was a kid in today’s world.
Dinosaurs seem to have a special rock star status — at least among younger kids — and this is our opportunity to take it to the next level. Why not make a TV program called ‘Swimming with dinoflagellates’ or ‘Floating with foraminifera’? Or in biology classes at school why not show living dinoflagellates, diatoms, or foraminifera? Catch a kid sneezing with hay fever and take an air sample to find out what type of plant, grass, or tree pollen is causing it. Pack your kids off to school with half your fossil collection, or give a presentation to their class on rocks and fossils. I think that if we could show more of this excitement to children, then some of them would be curious enough to learn more.
Society has a need for biostratigraphers for the foreseeable future and I believe that if we can keep children interested in dinosaurs and fossils, we might be able to take them a step further and make them more interested in the smaller life forms that were present, and in earth’s history in general. In the current climate of cost cutting in industry, biostratigraphy is an efficient and cost-conscious tool for palaeoenvironmental analysis, subdividing stratigraphy, and correlating between wells. At the same time, with ever more focus on safe drilling, biostratigraphy has much to offer in terms of stratigraphic drilling control at the wellsite. The challenge for industrial biostratigraphers both now and in the future is communication. As well as pushing their science forward, they have to stand tall and shout loudly so as not to become invisible in what is a very competitive and demanding workplace.
We need to be creative to recruit more young people into the world of biostratigraphy and keep them motivated. So every time my son asks me if we can read something about dinosaurs, we do it. Let’s wait and see if this will result in a new biostratigrapher in about 20 years.