A Detective Story from Yucatan, about Dinosaurs & Disaster

© Joe Tucciarone/ /Science Photo Library/Corbis

Illustration © Joe Tucciarone/ /Science Photo Library/Corbis; and National Geographic

We all love well-told stories.  I’ve long been aware of this one since taking a geology class in college many years ago, but rarely have I found it told as well as it has been by this author, writing in Nautilus.  (Pity they’ve blocked use of the gorgeous asteroid-impact illustrating their article.)  

At a language school where I volunteer here in Mexico, I’ve been using this story in coaching English pronunciation.  Yes, it has some big science words, but we don’t let that detract from the excitement of the telling, which has so much going for it, namely:  a geologist of Hispanic lineage whose father (and collaborator) was a Nobel physicist; local angle (the impact site is a 40-minute drive to the beach); brilliant use of scientific methods and thought experiments; deep resistance from other scientists who believed in gradualism rather than abrupt and cataclysmic events; and the key to learning — curiosity, combined with a tenacity to ask and pursue the right questions.  This account may not be an Indiana Jones nail-biter, but it certainly hasn’t put my students to sleep!