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Find Wet Stuff in Harder, Not-Wet Stuff

Remember when xkcd described how a rocket works using only the 1000 most commonly used words in the English language? “Saturn V Rocket” isn’t in the list, so it was reduced to “Up-Goer Five.”

Now Theo Sanderson has created an Up-Goer Five text “editor” into which you can type anything you want and it warns you when you’ve used an uncommon English word. Naturally, today’s Twitter science meme (#upgoerfive) is explaining your research or what you do at work using the “ten hundred” most common English words.

This is my attempt at explaining what I do everyday, i.e. exploration geophysics using techniques of seismic interpretation, rock porosity, fluid in pores, seismic inversion, reservoir volumetrics and 4D seismic.

I study the deep ground to understand it better and to find stuff that we burn to make power, water and stuff that goes into building other stuff like the big or small computer you are reading this on.

“The ground has different types of stuff in it. When the ground is hit very hard, the different types of stuff in it shake in a different way. I can then get back a computer picture of the different stuff that the ground has in it. Next, I look and look and look and look at the picture of deep ground on the computer and draw a box around the stuff that has the wet stuff we want to get out. (The box is often as big as a town, to give you an idea.) The wet stuff we want to get out is not in a big space in the deep ground, like many people think, but in tiny little spaces inside other harder, not-wet stuff. So, knowing what the harder, not-wet stuff looks like up here, I also use the computer to guess how many tiny spaces there are within it down there, how well the spaces touch each other, how much wet stuff there is in the whole box, how much we can get out and how easy or hard it will be for others to suck the wet stuff out from the tiny little spaces. In the last few years, we have been taking the wet stuff out and then hitting the ground very hard again so that it will give us a picture of any wet stuff we left behind.

“I also like to show other people what I do, help women get into jobs like mine and think that my work should be open so that many people can learn and fix problems that face all of us.”

Chris and Anne are compiling a list of geological #upgoerfive contributions.

It is somewhat disheartening that “calculate” and “examine” aren’t in our common vocabulary, forget “science” and “rock.” Then again, words like “space,” “ground,” “computer” and “problem” are used often, which makes this fun and challenging. What is the value of the exercise? It reminds me of the times I explained my graduate theses to my super-intelligent and intellectually curious grandmother who understood English but fluently spoke only Tamil. How do you explain brittle failure, transtensional folding, gravimetry, seismic and rock porosity to someone like her? Heck, how do you explain them to a native English speaker not familiar with these terms? You go back to basic principles and basic English and start from scratch without skipping any steps. I feel non-scientists actually like and understand science better this way, if you do it in a non-condescending way. And, once you introduce a new term or two, they adopt it and begin recognizing and using it themselves because they earned it. Isn’t that how we learned and still learn?

Try it out. Run your engineering, legalese, business lingo and medical verbiage through the Up-Goer Five editor. It’s a great brain workout.

1 comment… add one

  • Matt Hall January 17, 2013, 8:28 PM

    I love this — “Next, I look and look and look and look at the picture of deep ground on the computer…”

    When I saw all the tweets about the tool this morning, I thought it was all a bit of a gimmick, but you’re right: it is a brain workout. It’s so funny how constraints on expression, like the oft-cited Twitter and Instagram, actually stoke the creative fire. Unfortunately, I ended up feeling so infested with jargon I could hardly write anything for the rest of the day.

    I hope every scientist in the world tries it out. Also every lawyer.

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