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J. Harlen Bretz, Spatial Thinker


Posted: Aug 25 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Spatial Thinking, Field-Based Learning, Perception/Observation, History of Geosciences
When my daughter Holly was little, she wanted me to tell her stories. I found it difficult to make up stories from scratch. Eventually, inspired by a book called The Tale of Chip the Teacup, we found a work-around. I would tell familiar stories from the point of view of an unexpected character: Beauty and the Beast from the point of view of the Beast; Snow White from the point of view of Grumpy, and so on. I found this sufficiently doable, and Holly found the stories sufficiently original.

At the recent Spatial Cognition 2010 conference, I found myself in an similar position, telling the familiar story of the geological history of the Pacific Northwest from the point of view of spatial cognition. More

Seagoing Science Revisited


Posted: Aug 3 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Field-Based Learning, History of Geosciences, Gender and Geosciences

I'm writing from the Coast Guard research icebreaker Healy, offshore from the Aleutians, where I am at sea with my husband Dale and daughter Dana. Dale spends four to five months a year aboard this ship, making the complex suite of science instrumentation work for science cruises in the Arctic. But I've never been on this ship, and Dana has never been on any research vessel. The Coast Guard sometimes allows family members to ride the ship during transit legs, and so Dana and I are aboard for the three day run from Seward, Alaska, to Dutch Harbor.

I feel a bit like Rip van Winkle, having gone to sleep and awoken 17 years later to find that some things have changed in seagoing science and others have stayed the same. I last sailed in 1993, as Chief Scientist aboard the R/V Ewing at the Vema Fracture Zone. More

John Diebold: Implementor Extraordinaire


Posted: Jul 6 2010 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Community, History of Geosciences, Field-Based Learning
Photo of John DieboldJohn Diebold at the beginning of his career, 1967 <image info>
Geosciences lost a true original when John Diebold died on July 1, 2010. John's pathway into and through science was convoluted. He was a local boy, from Nyack, who "ran away to sea" on an early Lamont-Doherty research vessel. For decades, he was the practical brains behind the seismic system on Lamont's world-ranging research vessels, most recently the R/V Marcus Langesth. He sailed on three Lamont ships, plus 16 other research vessels, including a staggering 26 legs as Chief or Co-Chief Scientist. Interspersed among various hands-on roles at sea and around the Lamont Machine Shop, he patched together an academic record, first a bachelor's degree, then a PhD. He managed to span the breadth of seagoing science, from the greasiest on-deck repair job, through design of software to turn data into insights, to interpretation of earth processes from novel observations.


In the context of Earth & Mind, John's death has gotten me to thinking about how many different talents are needed to push back the frontiers of knowledge in geosciences...and to wondering whether we are recruiting and fostering the necessary range of talents in the next generation. More

Congratulations, Marcia!


Posted: Oct 29 2009 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Gender and Geosciences, History of Geosciences

Congratulations to Marcia McNutt, who has been confirmed by the Senate as the Director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

I trailed a few years behind Marcia in the doctoral program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the 1970's, when women scientists were scarce at Scripps and non-existent in the higher reaches of the profession. Times have indeed changed: More

Even Darwin Struggled with Dip and Strike


Posted: Sep 21 2009 by Kim Kastens
Topics: Spatial Thinking, Metacognition, History of Geosciences, Field-Based Learning

3D water level test apparatusTest apparatus for dip & strike (credit)
When students were asked what aspects of introductory geology they found most troublesome, dip and strike featured on many students' hit lists (Helmer & Repine, 2006). One thread of my research with psychologist Lynn Liben seeks to understand why dip and strike are so hard for so many students.

Instructors and students who have struggled with this topic may find it reassuring to learn that even Charles Darwin struggled with dip and strike. Shortly before leaving on his epic voyage on the Beagle, he wrote to J. S. Henslow, professor of mineralogy and botany at Cambridge University:

I should have written to you sometime ago, only I was determined to wait for the Clinometer: & I am very glad to say I think it will answer admirably: I put all the tables in my bedroom, at every conceivable angle & direction I will venture to say I have measured them as accurately as any Geologist going could do. Darwin Correspondence Project: Letter 102

I love the image of one of the greatest observational scientists of all time, with the tables in his bedroom all askew, trying to master his brand new clinometer. More

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