Get a LIFE: Happy (almost) 60th anniversary to the magazine that launched a thousand dino geeks

Some people like to tell me, “Dr. Bob, get a life!”

I did, 60 years ago. Here I am re-reading my battered copy of the magazine that got me hooked on paleontology.

Celebrating Life!
Happy anniversary to the LIFE magazine that created … me!

Sept. 7, 1953 was the publication date of the greatest, most momentous article on fossils and the history of life. LIFE issued its glorious “The World We Live In” series with a cover story about the prehistoric safari. Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus loomed large on the opening page. There were trilobites too, full-page photos, and scenes from the Texas Red Beds. Then came Triassic dinos, Jurassic dinos, Cretaceous dinos, and the ocean-going reptiles who filled the warm tropical seas of the Mesozoic. There were evolutionary opportunists, the conquering furballs of the Paleocene Epoch, who rushed with Darwinian speed to fill the voids left by dinosaur extinction. Prominent furry mammals included the the famous “Saber-toothed Vegans”, six-horned Uintatheres, followed by Killer Warthogs like our mounted skeleton of Archaeotherium. Finally, the LIFE story reached a crescendo with the Ice Age behemoths: mastodons, mammoths and saber-toothed cats.

But what hooked my fourth-grade mind wasnʼt merely the monster parade of weird and wondrous beasts. It was the story. LIFE writer Lincoln Barnett explained how chromosomes and habitats cooperated in manufacturing new species. How we could see desert lizards evolving right now in Americaʼs Southwest. And how Birds of Paradise exemplified the power of sexual selection to transform bodies and behavior.

The fossil history became even more wonderful because we could understand what shaped the successive waves of creatures who swept across land and sea, dominated the ecosystems, and then suffered catastrophic die-offs to make room for the next surge of evolution. Barnettʼs prose was graceful and riveting (he wrote an award-winning biography of Einstein for kids). Many other budding scientists owe their careers to Barnett and to Life.

We should never underestimate the extraordinary power of fine science journalism. As a 9-year-old, I read and re-read that LIFE magazine in my Granddadʼs solarium. Then I said to myself, “Wow, thatʼs the best story I ever read. Best story I could imagine.” At dinner, I announced to my startled parents, “Iʼm gonna grow up to be a paleontologist and dig up the history of the world!”

After a polite pause, Mom remarked “Thatʼs nice dear … itʼs a phase and youʼll outgrow it.”

(She still says that.)

Celebrating Life!
Hereʼs an unapologetic plug to buy this issue of LIFE. We see here a scene
from the middle of the narrative. A Late Jurassic Allosaurus is feeding on
the rump of a brontosaur. The painting is by Rudy Zallinger and was based
on the skeletons at New York — the museum there dug a brontosaur with
severe tooth marks on the bones, bites that matched the jaws of an
allosaur dug from the same strata not far away.

Do check your used book stores for this issue of LIFE. They are out there, but delicate since the paper is hi-acid. The paleo-issue was bound together with other special LIFE numbers on nature as a hard-cover, “The World We Live In.” There was a kidsʼ edition of the book, too, and a Golden Book version of the fossil story.

Life: A New Series from the Discovery Channel

Morning Dew
Creative Commons License photo credit: Aaron Escobar ♦ (the spaniard)™

Planet Earth was an unprecedented series that took us on an incredible Journey. It unveiled some of the most fantastic sites and most amazing phenomena on our planet. I had to be one of the first to purchase the series and spent many nights curled up on my couch watching episodes. when I heard that Discovery was coming out with a brand new series called “Life”, I was so excited. Then, when I found out that I was invited to a special screening of the first episode at the River Oaks Landmark theater, I was ecstatic! In my opinion, there is no entertainment that provides the drama, excitement, suspense, and even comedy that nature delivers. Plus, what better use for our high definition flat screen TVs than to capture the brilliant colors and awe inspiring scenery of our planet. So, sign me up for more of that!

cheetah1
Creative Commons License photo credit: kevinzim

The first episode of the “Life” series is called “Challenges of Life” and it airs Sunday evening at 8 pm eastern/7 pm central. This is the episode I had the pleasure of viewing! I think it was a great introduction to the series and definitely left you wanting to see more! Discovery masterfully captured on film how the highly adapted thought processes and behaviors of plants and animals allow them to survive on a constantly changing planet. Predators and prey have to think and act fast to either get their next meal or avoid being someone else’s!  Competition for mates is higher than ever, giving rise to some of the most fantastic displays, graceful dances, and fierce battles. I loved how we weren’t only shown predators dominating their prey, but also animals creatively outsmarting their pursuers and barely escaping.

Strawberry dart frog
Creative Commons License photo credit: sly06

The makers of Planet earth show you everything from cheetahs finding a new way to hunt, to flying fish, to the amazing perseverance of the little strawberry poison dart frog. I was pleased to also see an insect that I know relatively little about, the stalk eyed fly. I have to admit, I even found what these flies do to compete for females, well, weird! I really don’t want to give too much away. This episode promises a series full of wonder and surprises, I was even surprised by the narrator. I can’t wait to see the others! If you liked the Planet Earth series I hope you’ll tune in or at least set your DVRs to the Discovery channel at 8 pm eastern. I know I will!

Science Doesn’t Sleep (4.21.08)

So here’s what went down since you logged off.

And the award for “least appetizing food product” goes to…PETA! For introducing the concept of “in vitro meat.” If you can produce it – in “commerically viable quantities” – you could win $1 million.

Alexandria may be the new Venice. Rising sea levels are already threatening the city’s ancient structures, and scientists expect they will continue rise there by at least 1 – 3 feet by the end of the 21st century.

hsantillan-small-180.jpg

Modern cowboy
Ignacio Hsantillian.
(c) Robb Kendrick and
Bright Sky Press

Think the concept of energy is hard to define? Take a stab at “life” – there are more than 280 definitions on record already, and scientists are still arguing about which is best.

Researchers at the University of Manchester have created the world’s smallest working transistor, smaller than a single molecule – out of one crystal of graphene.

Still waiting for that flying car The Jetsons’ promised would be waiting for you just a few short years into the future? Too bad. Check out what scientists think will actually happen in the next 50 years.

Local arts blog Bayou Dawn points us to an interesting profile of photographer Robb Kendrick in the New York Times. Right now, Kendrick’s amazingly evocative cowboy tintypes are on display right here at HMNS.