Somewhere around 200 students and faculty gathered on a field at Stanford University last Saturday to re-enact half a billion years of plate tectonics. Costumed and organized in color-coded groups to represent the continents and oceans, the groups moved in sync to simulate Earth undergoing continental drift, complete with asteroid impacts, mass extinctions, and Coast Guard emergency flares to simulate volcanoes.

The demonstration started at 250 million years ago, when the most of the dry land on Earth was glued together to form Pangea. The tectonic tape was run forward, continents spreading and shifting about until to 250 million years in the future, when geologists believe a new supercontinent will reassemble itself. In the middle the group paused at the present day and the people making up Antarctica opened and closed black jackets they were wearing to display white shirts underneath, simulating ice ages (bottom of the picture).

Oddly enough, it wasn't just a random idea. The leader of this strange interpretation of Earth's history, Stanford student Kat Hoffman got her inspiration from a similar (though way more psychedelic) video on protein synthesis put together by the Nobel-Prize winning chemist Paul Berg in 1971. Berg was also at Stanford, and the fact that almost forty years later members of Stanford University are willing to repeat the process tells us two things: 1) people there are dedicated to coming up with fun ways of visualizing science and 2) there is almost certainly something in the water in Northern California.


Hoffman says her video will be out later this summer.

Source: Stanford University