KIDS ASK! How Do You Find Fossils?

Smile! This week is all about FOSSILS!
(All photos credit: pixabay)

Here at High Touch High Tech, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part of our work is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam-packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


Now this is a truth all our science friends, young and old, can agree on: fossils are really, really, REALLY cool!  Whether it’s a giant Megalodon tooth bigger than your hand or a towering T-Rex,  fossils show us a whole world that existed before humans were ever here.  It’s amazing to think that once upon a time, here on this same earth, there were animals like stegosauruses, triceratops, and pterodactyls.  It’s amazing to look at a fossil and realize that this earth is actually very, very old, and our lives are just one little part in the long and beautiful story of life on earth! 

It’s no wonder that our young scientists want to know where to find fossils, and we at High Touch High Tech are happy to tell you more.  When you watch a movie or TV show, you often see Paleontologists (a.k.a. the awesome scientists who get to find and study fossils for a living), carefully brushing dirt away from a huge skeleton emerging from the ground.  Paleontologists really do find huge skeletons from time to time, but the truth is they are pretty rare.  So, bad news first: if you go hunting for fossils you probably won’t find a whole Brontosaurus.  Now for the good news: there are MANY other kinds of fossils you can find, and they are more common than you might think! 

Here’s the real secret of fossil hunting: it’s all about WHERE you look.  Paleontologists and Fossil Fans all follow the same rule of thumb: look for fossils where fossils have been found before.  Usually people find fossils in certain locations because those places had the best conditions for ancient animals and plants to turn into fossils.  For example, there’s a place in England called “Jurassic Beach” where some of the first fossils known to science were found hundreds of years ago, and people still go to find awesome fossils today.  Jurassic Beach is a great place for fossil hunting because a long time ago it was a warm ocean, full of many kinds of life AND the right kind of mud in the ocean to fossilize the bodies of ancient animals and plants.  Before you start your fossil hunt, remember that fossils are only found in places with sedimentary rocks, such as  limestone, sandstone, or shale.  Sedimentary rocks mean that once upon a time a place was full of the kind of mud and sand that makes fossils.

Jurassic Beach in England. See all of the layers in the rock? Places that look like this can be a good place to find fossils!

One way YOU can start finding fossils is to google “best places to find fossils in (your state or country).”  You will see lots of information about the best places to go, and you might even find a few fossil-hunting clubs and organizations that lead trips to those places.  Going with a fossil club will help you learn quickly how to spot fossils, as you go on the hunt with other Fossil Fans.  If you can’t travel, that’s OK too – there might be some fine fossil-hunting spots right in your own backyard!  A great place to find fossils might be what’s called a “road cut,” where construction has cut through a hill or mountain.  If you look at the sides of the road cut and see many layers of different rock, you might be on the road to a fossil find! Another great place can be on steep riverbanks with many layers in the sides.  Just be sure to hunt with an adult science friend so they can help keep you safe, and make sure you are on public land, not in someone’s private backyard. 

These are Ammonites, a very abundant fossil. Keep your eyes open for round and spiral shapes!

The first rule of fossil hunting is: it’s all about WHERE you look.  The second is: it’s all about WHAT you look for.  You might be thinking of big T-Rex skulls or Velociraptor claws when you think of fossils, but there are a lot more fossils out there than that.  They’re just very small, and you have to learn how to look for small clues, not big ones.  Many Paleontologists recommend taking along a special book called a field guide to help you identify what you see.  The vast majority of fossils come from animals called invertebrates, animals like today’s mollusks, snails, and insects.  There are also many types of fossilized plants to keep an eye out for.  When you are out fossil hunting, you will be looking at every rock you see, just like a detective looks for clues.  Look for rocks with shell or leaf shapes in them.  Those shapes are usually fossils!  If your adult science friend has a special tool called a rock hammer, you can even try to split rocks open to see what’s inside.  Look for round rocks called nodules, which often form around a fossil.  

Some fossils to look out for are: Nautilus fossils (above) and Trilobite fossils (below).

Because we know our young scientists are such big Fossil Fans, we’ve included lots of resources below to help you get started.  There are lists of the best places to hunt, a link to a real fossil hunting club, and many videos of experts fossil hunting to show you more.  Happy hunting, science friends!


Best public sites to find fossils:

More about the best places to look and what to look for (very helpful website!):

The North Carolina Fossil Club: 

A Paleontologist talking about how he finds fossils:

An awesome explanation of the different types of fossils you can find:

How to tell a fossilized bone from a rock:

An excellent explanation of how and where YOU can find fossils (with a good recommendation for books and guides that can help you):

Splitting open nodules on Jurassic Beach:

KIDS ASK! What Would Happen if You Fell in a Volcano?

Nyiragongo Volcano, Democratic Republic of Congo
Cai Tjeenk Willink (Caitjeenk)CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:

What Would Happen if You Fell in a Volcano?

If you’ve seen Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, you know that the ending involves a very famous, and very deadly volcano (if you haven’t seen it, we won’t spoil it for you).  In movies, games, and TV, fighting around volcanoes and even falling into them seem to happen a lot.  Fortunately, we know from volcano scientists, who have the very cool title of “Volcanologists,” that actually falling into an active volcano or lava flow does not happen very often.  This is partly because a Volcanologist studies when and where volcanoes are erupting to help keep people safe, and help them get out of the way of any volcanoes that might be dangerous.  However, it is a scientific fact that volcanoes are so hot and powerful that they can kill you very quickly, just not in the way that we see in movies.

You might be surprised to know that Volcanologists, who are specially trained after years of school, actually CAN walk right up to lava flows and even reach in with tools to take samples of super-hot lava!  Lava fresh from the eruption can be anywhere from a scorching 1,600 to 2,200 degrees F.  Volcanologists sometimes have to wear special helmets made with gold and special suits made with aluminum to reflect the heat, but even then they cannot stay near an active eruption for more than a few minutes.  However, there have been enough brave Volcanologists who have done enough awesome volcano science to be able to tell us exactly what would happen if you fell in to the caldera, or cone, of a volcano right into the lava there.

Movies and TV give us an idea that lava is like water, and can swallow you up just like when you go off a diving board into a pool.  That’s not really true.  Water is a liquid with high viscosity, which means it’s not very dense and it flows easily.  Lava is thick, gooey, melted rock, not water.  Its molecules are totally different than water.  It has what’s called low viscosity, which means it’s very dense and heavy, and flows pretty slowly.  This means that if you landed on most kinds of lava, you’d more likely just hit the surface and sink in a little bit, not go under completely.  But that doesn’t mean you could just walk across the surface and climb out! 

Volcanologists want people to know that the atmosphere AROUND a volcano can be just as deadly as the lava itself.  Although lava is scary looking, the invisible gases volcanoes can give off can be much worse for you. Because a volcano is bringing up all kinds of elements and compounds from deep in the earth, it means that there are many toxic gases around it, such as Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Sulfide , which can asphyxiate you, stop you from breathing, before you even get close to the lava itself.  Plus, the air right around and above the lava in a volcano is very, very hot.  It can be just as hot as the lava itself.  So, the scientific answer to this burning question is a little gross, but it’s true: if you did fall in a volcano, you would probably asphyxiate immediately from all the toxic gases in there, and at the same time, your whole body would burst into flames from the heat.  A volcano is SO hot that if you fell in, even if you fell for just a few seconds, only your bones and ashes would remain to actually land on the lava!

Volcanoes are very, very powerful natural phenomenon that have been shaping the earth and affecting human lives since the beginning of time.  They are an important part of the world we live in and if you are ever near an active volcano,  be sure to go with an expert guide and follow all of their directions carefully.  Most people don’t know that the gases and heat around a volcano can be dangerous too, but now you do.  So, thanks to science, you are now fully volcano-safe! 

Sources and Further Information:

How Volcanologists Study Lava:

A Volcanologist in the Field:

What Really Happens When You Fall into Lava:

More about Lava and Human Bodies:

What Really Happened in Pompeii:

KIDS ASK! Could Megalodon Still be Alive in the Deep Sea?

Here at High Touch High Tech, we get to do a lot of science with a lot of amazing young scientists. We love feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask about science.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  First up is:


This most excellent question is on the minds of shark fans all over the world!  Why?  Because, clocking in at almost 60 feet, the mighty Megalodon was the largest shark that ever lived!  There are several species of big, scary sharks today to capture your attention, but Megalodon was the undisputed BIGGEST and SCARIEST of all.  We know about Megalodon because its huge teeth are still found all over the world, and we know that teeth that big were designed to eat WHALES.  That’s right – imagine an enormous shark big enough to take a lethal bite out of a whale and you’ve got Megalodon.

Say Hello to Megalodon!
Werner Kraus
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thankfully, no Megalodon is going to come up and swallow you whole while you are enjoying a nice day in the ocean, as depicted in the recent movie, The Meg.  Megalodon IS extinct, disappearing from the fossil record about 2.6 million years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene age.  Although our oceans are enormous and there are definitely huge sharks living even in very deep parts of the oceans, a shark as big as Megalodon could not survive in the deep ocean for many reasons, most especially: FOOD!

An artist’s rendition of Megalodon mealtime
Karen Carr
CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Not getting enough food was one of the reasons Megalodon died out in the first place.  A shark that big requires lots and lots of food to function and maintain its huge body.  Scientists think it needed the equivalent of a couple of cows every day to survive!  When Megalodon died out about 2.6 million years ago, paleontologists believe it had to do with the fact that its main food source, whales, were also diminishing.  As whale populations diminished, not only did the Meg lose food, it also had to deal with another competitor in the oceans – the GREAT WHITE SHARK.  Great White Sharks emerged around the same time as Megalodon was dying out, and the new Great Whites were strong but small.  Great Whites could attack the same prey as the Megalodon, but required a lot less food to survive.

Megalodons, Great White, and late Pleistocene whales
Darius Nau
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But could a couple of rogue Megs have escaped to survive deep in the ocean?  The deep ocean is big, and there is a surprising amount of life way down there, even a few gigantic, non-megalodon sharks.  However, a big dude like the Meg would have some serious problems living there.  Food is very hard to find because the deep sea is almost totally dark.  No light means no plankton, no plankton means no other food.  Most animals that live in the deep sea are scavengers that eat scraps fallen from the upper ocean, and they are adapted to be able to go long, long times between meals.  A huge shark like the Megalodon needs a huge amount of food, and that just isn’t available in the deep sea.

As the light fades, so does the available food
Amy Apprill
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is also the crushing pressure of all that water.  Living under high pressure would cause a lot of problems for a big toothy creature like Megalodon.  Such high pressure actually dissolves things like teeth and bones, which is why the deepest known fish, such as the Mariana Snailfish, have skeletons of cartilage.  Deep sea animals also have special molecules in their bodies called piezolytes, which help keep their bodies strong and intact under all that pressure.  PLUS, the deep sea is so cold and dark, just to live there would require the Meg to become bioluminescent and expand its eyes to a much bigger size.

All in all, those are just too many challenges for a huge shark designed to expend lots of energy eating whales.  So science friends, the Megalodon is definitely extinct.  BUT, there are some incredible, huge, well-adapted deep sea sharks that do exist that are also really, really cool.  We’ve included some links to videos below so you can see what’s REALLY in the deep sea.

Sources and Further Information:

Incredible Real Deep Sea Shark Videos:

More about the Megalodon: