TARDIS sets scientists on course to discover 450-million-year-old fossil
The trilobite dated to before land plants had appeared, when man’s ancestors were still crawling out of the primordial slime, said Dr Smith. It was the first time this species was discovered in Australia, although similar species have been found in North America, Europe and other areas.
Fossils are generally found in limestone, said Dr Ebach. But he discovered the new species of trilobite in 1997 in mudstone when he was “caught short while driving through Gunns Plains in Tasmania”.
It wasn’t until recently that the two scientists realised it was a new species.
Dr Ebach said a diverse range of trilobites were once found everywhere on the planet. “Suddenly they disappeared, and we don’t really know why.”
By travelling back in time, much like The Doctor, scientists may discover why species disappeared then and now.
“Why are there [now] only two species of elephant and one species of humans?” he said.
Dr Smith, 30, and Dr Ebach, a generation older, discovered a mutual love of Dr Who, Tom Baker, science and the concept of time travelling five years ago on a road trip together.
Dr Smith fell in love with Tom Baker while watching repeats in the early 2000s: “He was my inspiration to go into science. He used science, to help people (in this case to elude fictional monsters).”
He also inspired him to study time travel. “The area of science I specialise in is bio-stratigraphy which is all about dating the age of Earth and its rocks,” said Smith.
Dr Ebach watched the originals in the 1970s, and said Baker’s Doctor Who inspired him to explore the natural world. “So, it is a joy to name a trilobite in his honour,” he said.
To mark the occasion, his sister in law knitted him a replica Doctor Who scarf while she was in lockdown in Victoria.
Baker wrote to the scientists, saying he was thrilled to hear the news that the rare specimen had been named in his honour. “I am delighted to be entitled at last,” Baker said.
“I hope the Who world will share my joy. Will I be allowed to tack “Fossil” on official correspondence? I hope the Who world will celebrate this fresh honour and will spread the news to those who live in remote places. Happy days to all the Who fans everywhere.”
Julie Power is a senior reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.