Introduction (aka The Mike Hays “work-a-Jurassic Park-reference-in-any-chance-I-get” opening paragraph.)
There’s some really cool experimental technology in the first part of Jurassic Park (I know, I know! There’s cool theoretical technology all over Jurassic Park but bear with me.). Take the Thumper, computer-assisted sonic tomography (CAST), technology, for example. The Thumper fires a lead slug into the ground creating waves which are analyzed by a computer to give an image. Dr. Alan Grant distrusts the technology but when the computer transforms the wave echo to yellow contour lines in the shape of a perfect juvenile velociraptor skeleton on the screen, he realizes technology might not be all bad.
All the Lovely Facts (aren’t always so lovely)
I’m a fact nerd. One of the reasons I enjoy writing is the process of research and the collection of interesting facts on a particular subject. In some ways, my facts nerdom is a blessing. In other ways, it’s a curse.
Crafting a STEM story, project or homework assignment is usually based on facts. The creative and/or informative work begins with a collection of relevant facts—an often unruly and random collection with a lack of cohesion. In short, the massive collection of somewhat related facts becomes a chaotic mess. These are tossed in a pile, studied, and then lined up in some sort of order that resembles the story inside your head you wish to tell. Then comes the work.
- Dig deep
- Chip away
- Clear away the dust
Finding your story is like finding the fossilized femur bone in the side of a mountain. Discover, dig, chip away, clear what doesn’t belong, and shine it until it sparkles and is ready to put on display. Writing becomes a whole lot like archaeology. Your story is out there. It’s buried deep under layers of sediment or fossilized in stone. Keep chipping away until you find it and then do the work to make it shine.
Melissa Stewart had an excellent Celebrate Science blog post in May of 2018 about the importance of focused nonfiction expository writing. Being a story archaeologist is key to producing this type of focused work. Sure one can use a drone camera to identify areas where a find likely exists, but until one gets focused on a site, does the digging, and finds the specific artifact, the drone picture is just a nice picture. A good story is the same. Focused. It grabs the reader from their drone-height view and embeds them into the story.
Hits & Misses
All the data suggests below the spot you now stand is a goldmine of artifacts. Artifacts you’ve spent your entire adult life searching for. Your heart pounds in anticipation as you can almost feel the remnants of an ancient society held gently in your gloved hands. You dream of headlines, prestigious publications, research grants, and museum exhibitions.
The grid is set over the location and the excavation begins. Day after day, week after week, month after month pass without a single discovery. Finally, you give up and admit this site is a dud.
Time to give up? No way!
You keep going because you know there’s something out there. You learn to accept the failures because you understand failure and success are made from the same cloth. The cloth of taking a chance on an idea. No one ever hit a baseball without swinging the bat. The same is true for science and writing. Moving forward often takes the courage to leap out of one’s comfort zone and into the unknown.
In writing nonfiction and fiction, ideas are cheap. They’re a dime a dozen plentiful. The fully fleshed and polished stories, however, are gold. There are more misses than hits in writing, especially when just starting out. With experience, though, the ratio begins to even out. A writer learns what works and what doesn’t work for them. They learn to focus. They learn to chip away at the rock until the perfect baby velociraptor skeleton of a story emerges.
The key is to keep digging.
Your story is out there.
Make it happen.
But please don’t start an amusement park of cloned, extinct alpha-predators without first considering the principles of chaos theory.
Have a STEM-filled 2019-2020 school year!
Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.com. Two of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101, are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.
The O.O.L.F Files
This month’s Out Of Left Field (O.O.L.F.) Files uncover some interesting links and information exploring archaeology and history while digging up some STEM funnies.
- How do you discover a dinosaur? via The Guardian
- Hunting for dinosaur bones in the digital age
- “Nowicki flew drones with thermal and spectral cameras over hundreds of square miles to create high-resolution, three-dimensional maps accurate down to the inch. The process identified 250 likely new locations to find fossils.”
- 4 New Technologies That Are Driving Archaeology Into the Future
- “Human history can easily be covered by nature, but archaeologists like Cusicanqui can use drones and LIDAR and Muon Tomography to uncover our past.”
- Archaeology unearthing the past using modern technology
- “Archaeology has always been very interdisciplinary,” says Heather Richards-Rissetto, an archaeologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln told NBC’s MACH. “But I think now there’s a lot more collaboration between science and engineering than before, and archaeologists are a part of that, helping to develop the technologies to study the past.”
- Tech in the Sediment: 12 Ways Archaeologists Use Technology
- Not quite as exciting as Dr. Grant imaging an infant velociraptor skeleton embedded in the rock, here is a tutorial video on how to use Argus Electronic’s PiCUS Sonic Tomograph to measure cavities or decay in a tree non-invasively.
And now for something completely different…
Archaeological Funnies (via Funny-Jokes.com)
Archaeologists are fickle. They’re always dating other people.
Most mothers tell their daughters to marry doctors…
I told mine to marry an archaeologist because the older she gets, the more interested he will be in her.
Two archaeologists were excavating a tomb in Egypt.
1st Archaeologist: I just found another tomb of a mummified pharaoh!
2nd Archaeologist: Are you serious?
1st Archaeologist: No bones about it!
Q: Why did the archaeologist go bankrupt?
A: Because his career was in ruins.
Q: What do you get in a 5-star pyramid?
A: A tomb with a view.