Greatest in the small things

Planktonic foramenifera. © F.S. Caballero

Scientists experience awe in very different ways, depending on the systems they study. In the second part of my interview with Spanish Palaeontologist Fernando Caballero Santamaria, he describes how he processes his experience of awe in his own work. (Part 1 here)

When you work with stones, as I do, sometimes it’s difficult to feel the sense of awe that more biological scientists often talk about. But when I’ve finished cleaning up my specimens and look at them under the microscope – that’s when I see real beauty. One of the greatest experiences of my career was when I was working with an electron microscope. The magnification was so high that I could see fossilised nano-plankton sitting in the pore of another plankton that I was studying. They’re so small, and so beautiful!

Outside of the lab, I often experience awe when I look at geological landscapes. For example, there’s a spectacular glacial valley in the Ordesa National Park in Northern Spain. Standing at the top of the valley, I have fossils under my feet, and in the distance I can see the limit of the Palaeocene period, the Eocene period, and so on. In my mind’s eye I am able to follow a three-dimensional reconstruction of these rock layers all the way to France in one direction, and towards what used to be the sea bed in the Basque country (where I live) in the other. It’s breathtaking. I’ve had similar experiences in Yellowstone National Park, and in Shark Bay in Australia where I studied stromatolites. To be there, just walking among the fossils…those are great experiences. Continue reading

Dialogue

Foraminifera “Star sand” Hatoma Island – Japan, Psammophile. (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

In the last of my interviews with Spanish scientists, Fernando Caballero Santamaria describes his work in palaeontology at the University of the Basque Country, and his experiences in discussing science-faith questions with his colleagues. 

I work with microfossils – remnants of a type of marine plankton called foraminifera. In some kinds of rock you can find thousands of these tiny fossils in every cubic centimetre, and they’re a great way to study geological change. As a PhD student I looked at the great extinction at the end of the cretaceous and beginning of the tertiary period (the K-T boundary) that correlates with volcanic and meteorite activity. During that particular extinction most plankton disappeared, and then completely new species began to appear – very small ones at first – that re-colonised all the different ecological niches. My research group has now helped to establish three other geological boundaries (Global Stratotypes and Section Points) as a reference for researchers around the world. Just two weeks ago we had an event where we put a ‘golden spike’ in an important rock stratotype in the Basque country. Continue reading

Modelling Reality

© Sascha Hoffmann, freeimages.com

The beauty of mathematics is in its ability to model reality. Our ability to do mathematics is equally astounding. Is there a theological aspect to this experience, and does it have its limitations? This is the second part of my interview with Enrique Mota, a mathematician from Valencia, Spain.  (Part 1 here)

Mathematics, for me, is beautiful. It shows me that the God I believe in is great. In mathematics we have a tool that models structures and events that are deeply embedded in the fabric of the universe. You can write the problem as an equation, add some constants, and find a solution. It works. Continue reading

Mathematics to the Glory of God

© valium88, freeimages.com

Enrique Mota is a Mathematician and a founding member of GBU, the IFES Christian student movement in Spain. He’s also a founding member of the Spanish Christians in Science group, which is making great efforts to help people in Spain understand how science and faith can relate to each other. This is the third of four interviews from my recent trip to Spain. Mota is a mathematician who clearly feels called to work in his field to the best of his ability, and to encourage others to do likewise.

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People

Photo from Test of FAITH. © The Faraday Institute

I interviewed a number of scientists on a recent trip to Spain, and this is an extract from the first of those conversations. Dr Raul García has a background in medicine and neuroscience, and is a Children and Adolescents Psychiatrist in Madrid.

I started university as a civil engineering student, but I didn’t enjoy my studies. I was more interested in people than numbers and equations, and towards the end of my first year I was looking for something else to do.  At the same time, I was involved in supporting a family friend who was suffering from mental illness, and I went with him to an appointment at the hospital where he was being treated. This person was a Christian, and during the interview he said that his future was in God’s hands. The medical staff laughed sceptically at him, interpreting his optimism as delusional thinking. This incident had a huge impact on me, and I began to think about studying medicine. I realised that I wanted to help people like my friend, and that this was both a scientific and a theological ambition. So I changed track, and studied medicine. Continue reading