Jeff Stanger

Starlight to first Earth life
Chasing the big questions in science

Jeff Stanger
Science Teacher, NSW Department of Education
Astronomy Educator, Sydney Observatory

So what does a science teacher get up to in their holidays? Well if they are as nerdy as me they go and check out something scientific of course. The 18th of April was a very exciting day for me. Taking a well earned break from teaching I was four wheel driving through the remote Pilbara in Western Australia, enjoying dark night skies and spectacular natural wonders. As part of my trip I was in search of something special and on the 18th I found it.

This something special was some of the earliest evidence for life on Earth in the form of fossilised Stromatolites. Stromatolites are colonies of Cyanobacteria that grow in shallow salt water and can still be found today in Shark Bay on the west coast of WA. I visited these living Stomatolites earlier in my WA trip to see for myself the organisms that may have lead to me being here today, alive and aware.

The fossilised ancestors of these Stromatolites are in sedimentary rocks as layered dome shaped structures. Scientists believe these were formed by Cyanobacteria in shallow seas more than 2.5 billion years ago. With only general directions from a leading palaeogeologist I ventured into the remote Pilbara to a location not far from Marble Bar. I was concerned because I only had an approximate location and no idea what hill or rock outcrop to look for. I chose a hill and climbed it. Within minutes, to my great relief, I was looking at one of the oldest signs of life on the planet, standing in awe and amazement.

This journey felt somewhat like a culmination of years of interest in science. Astronomy is my first love and this was cemented in childhood when I borrowed my schools' telescope and took it home. The main thing that has drawn me to astronomy since then is the big questions it tries to answer. Another of these big question is the origin of life and this is intertwined with astronomy in the field of astrobiology. In recent years this multidiscipline field of science has set my mind and imagination alight with the biggest questions in existence like "how did life arise on Earth?". Obviously over the years my interest in science has broadened into other areas and continues to grow. I know, I know, I'm such a nerd :).

Hopefully you can see that science and the concepts it involves really excite me. I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts for the WWDS and I hope it opens up the possibility of a life in science for some of you. Regardless of whether you choose a career in science or not I always hope that your choice includes the things that feed your inner most being. I hope you can immerse yourself in the things you most love to do. I am very lucky that my work and play include many things that I love. These include helping others and the wonder and understanding that can be found in science. I wish you the best of luck and hope that you can follow your dreams.

If you would like to learn more about the science that interests me you can check out my site

My Answers

Experience: Having dinner with a Nobel Prize Winner
Future: Work with others and contribute to society
Puzzles: Whether there are intelligent beings on other planets
Important:  My spiritual beliefs and values
Dessert: Mango Sorbet (icy and fruit flavoured)

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