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A Month of STEM Birthdays: Alfred Wegener

Welcome to NMSI’s first STEM birthday celebration! Every week for the month of November we will celebrate a notable inventor, mathematician, astronomer or other STEM figure and discuss their contributions to the math and science world. This week, we’re starting right here on the NMSI blog with…

Alfred Wegener, born Nov. 1, 1880

Alfred Wegener viewed the world like a giant jigsaw puzzle. At age 20, South America and West Africa caught his eye; it seemed to him that the two fit together almost seamlessly. This observation evolved into the theory known today as continental drift.
The next year, he learned that fossils of species found in Brazil were from the same species as fossils found in West Africa. He was convinced that at some point millions of years ago, the two continents had been one land mass.

However, the rest of the world did not agree with – or really acknowledge – this revolutionary theory. It wasn’t until the 1960s, almost 30 years after Wegener’s death, that geologists began to accept his theory. (A class of sixth-graders depicted this conflict as a rap battle, which can be viewed here.)

Today, geologists widely believe this theory to be true. The continents are still moving today, slowly shifting 2.5 cm away each year – the same rate that our fingernails grow. This is largely due to the giant sheets of rock residing underneath the continents, known as tectonic plates.

This movement can cause the formation of oceanic trenches, mountains (like the Himalayas) and volcanoes.
As plates slide past each other, they can form fault lines – which are popular sites for some of the world’s most severe earthquakes.

You could say that Wegener’s theory is, well, “ground-breaking.” Happy birthday, Alfred!
Check back in on social media each week in the month of November for more STEM birthdays!

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