Last Saturday my husband and I started the day by attending a public lecture at UiO’s Gamle festsal. During a 2 hour period we were introduced to IDA – a fossil dating back more than 47 million years.
IDA: The actual placement of IDA on the evolutionary tree is still a topic of debate. This is how science works, writes VIce Rector Doris Jorde, who recently attended a public lecture where the researcher Jørn Hurum and other scientist were gathered to conduct research and describe the fossil.
The cast of speakers was none less than the actual “dream team” of scientists assembled by Jørn Hurum to conduct research on and describe this amazing and complete fossil. Jørn Hurum is a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, University of Oslo – where IDA is on display.
The early evolution of primates was told to us through a series of small talks where the public was quickly brought into an amazing world of high technology research combined with an intense spirit of curiosity to explain and understand the fossil record. Jörg Habersetzer, Holly Smith, Jørn Hurum, Jens L. Franzen, and Philip Gingerich told us the story of /Darwinius masillae /(IDA) and how she lived and died in the Messel locality in Germany – at that time a rain forest.
We were shown images of Ida’s teeth in 3D rotating models providing evidence that she was a juvenile primate. The fossil remains of her last meal consisting of berries and leaves, together with her skeleton features and tooth patterns indicated that she was tree dweller. The story continued with the speculation that IDA may have been engulfed by a cloud of gas erupting from the lake from which she was drinking. The misfortune of her shorten life later became our fortune as this fossil, 47 million years later, was discovered and is now being meticulously studied.
The actual placement of IDA on the evolutionary tree is still a topic of debate. This is how science works. And with the development of advanced imaging techniques, new fossil evidence will continue to reveal the pieces of the evolutionary puzzle. This small fossil will be an object of research for many years to come.
The scientists in the “dream team” are renown researchers in their fields and have numerous publications in which they communicate with an academic audience in their respective fields of expertise. Yet, on a Saturday in Oslo, they were able to communicate their research to a general public audience – and they did so with a great deal of enthusiasm and engagement.
Communicating our research to colleagues and students is an important part of university academic standards. Communicating and sharing our research with the general public must also be a prioritized part of our academic careers. I am sure many of us have a good story to tell to an interested public – even if it is not as sensational as IDA. Perhaps we will meet on a future Saturday morning!