The English language offers some entertaining euphemisms, and one I’ve always found amusing is used by parents like me, who will say they need to talk to the kids about the “birds and the bees.” Science, as usual, adds a new perspective: fishes were around a long time before the birds and bees got busy. Now recently discovered fossils show that internal fertilization arrived millions of years before previously thought and in a more primitive species of fish than expected.
In what is today an Australian cattle ranch, biologist John A. Long and his team examined fossils of sea creatures from the Devonian era. They discovered the earliest evidence of an animal that had sex and gave birth the way we do: a 375-million-year-old embryo inside an ancient fish called Materpiscis. The fossils give us new clues about how our own reproductive system arose and how different parts of anatomy evolved over time. As Long writes in his feature article and this issue’s cover story, “Dawn of the Deed”: “Sex, it seems, really did change everything.” That’s no fish tale.
Long and his colleagues had to go to Australia to make their finds, but the Internet lets us share the joy of science discovery and learning globally. A new program that provides this capability is the Google Online Science Fair, which will be formally announced in mid-January. The fair will accept submissions from students around the world in three age categories, covering kids from middle through high school. I will be among the judges of the fair projects and will travel to the event to meet the winners in July 2011. Scientific American is partnering on the project as part of our ongoing educational efforts.
Perhaps you will view the information about the online science fair by using your smart phone or an electronic tablet. And if you do, you might also look for Scientific American on the iPhone, iPad and other devices soon. The magazine and its editors are also on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, we’re taking science to the people in person. In the past few months we have held Scientific American events at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, at the 92nd Street Y TriBeCa in New York City—and most recently at the New York Academy of Sciences.
The heart of what we do at Scientific American will always be the expert-informed, authoritative editorial that we provide, and we hope that exploring these new venues and formats will help bring science to the lay public more broadly. The world at large could certainly use more science.