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Key to success: Vision Key to success: Passion Key to success: Perseverance Key to success: Preparation Key to success: Courage Key to success: Integrity Key to success: The American Dream Keys to success homepage More quotes on Passion More quotes on Vision More quotes on Courage More quotes on Integrity More quotes on Preparation More quotes on Perseverance More quotes on The American Dream


Meave Leakey

Pioneering Paleoanthropologist

Meave Leakey: In 1959, that was the year that -- they had been working intermittently at Olduvai since -- Louis's first trip was in 1931, and they had gone there together in 1935. So they'd gone back whenever they could find the time and the money. Louis was convinced that if they kept doing that, they would finally find really good evidence of human ancestors there, because the ground at Olduvai is covered in stone tools. There are stone tools everywhere. Louis felt that if they looked long enough, they would find the maker of the tools. It was from 1931 until 1959. In 1959, Mary Leakey spotted these teeth, which turned into a fantastic skull, which they nicknamed -- well, they called Zinjanthropus and nicknamed "dear boy." You can imagine them calling it "dear boy" after all that time. So this was a skull that really set the scene in East Africa, 'cause up until that time there had been no discoveries of anything other than what they had found at Olduvai, which was just isolated teeth and skull fragments.
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Meave Leakey

Pioneering Paleoanthropologist

Meave Leakey: It was in the ground in situ, but it was very cracked and broken, and it had roots going through it and it was covered in rock. It actually took one of the preparators in the museum, Christopher Chiari, nine months to get the rock off the skull, so it was nine months before we could really look at it and see what we had. So from the time of digging it out of the ground, we had to wait nine months before we could study it and then when we studied it we had to compare it with all sorts of other things. So that's why it wasn't actually published until 2001, in spite of being found in 1999.
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Meave Leakey

Pioneering Paleoanthropologist

Meave Leakey: Things have really changed, and dramatically changed I think. It's really encouraging now when I'm talking to students, in America particularly, that the student body is often more girls than men, young women than men. And it is, as you say, it's very quick. It's happened really quickly. I really wanted to do marine zoology, so I chose my university because there was a very good marine station there. I never dreamt I would be anything but a marine zoologist. It was straightforward as far as I could see. I went to a good school, got a good degree, and there you go. But when I started to apply for jobs, the answer was always negative, because I was a woman and they didn't have facilities (for women) on boats for men. You really can't do oceanography and marine zoology without going to sea. So it was just "No, no, no." Which is how I finally got into going to Africa and doing paleontology.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

Richard Leakey: In most cases, when you find a fossil -- and you don't always find it yourself, but one of your team finds it -- they find something that is very unimpressive. It's basically a fragment that is sufficiently preserved, that you can say, "Well, this is a fragment of a human ancestor." It's a piece of a skull, or it's a piece of a leg bone, but its anatomy -- the anatomical detail -- is distinctive from the anatomy of a similar element from another species. So you can say, "It's not a baboon, it's not a monkey, it's not a lion, it's not an antelope. This is a human ancestor." But it's just a scrap. You then look further, and you end up, if you're lucky, finding other pieces, some of which will fit back onto the original discovery. So you then get a fragment that is a little bigger. In some cases, you are very lucky. You find a fragment, a skull, and in time you pick up -- through excavation or a combination of screening and excavation -- you pick up enough that you can begin to piece together what the skull looked like.
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Richard Leakey

Paleoanthropologist and Conservationist

So the excitement, the buzz, usually is gradually developed. It's not like a jab with an electricity rod. It's sort of a slow build-up to the full consummation. I guess you could say it's like very slow sex, building up to the final moment. I guess that's an analogy for most of it. Sometimes however, it's not like that at all. You walk around a corner, and there the whole thing is before you because it was washed out complete. Or you find something, and with a very short amount of clearing away of the topsoil, you see what you have. So it can be either way, but it's generally a very slow process. Ninety percent of the time, these isolated fragments are just that. The other pieces have long since disappeared, through fracture and erosion, or were never deposited. So most pieces that you find don't lead to a lot more, but sometimes they do. The average is that one in 20 specimens proves to be worthwhile, and knowing that, you keep at it.
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Leon Lederman

Nobel Prize in Physics

Leon Lederman: I had spent three years in the army, and the first year in graduate school's a tough one, because I had forgotten how to study, and I wasn't doing that well, and the classes were very crowded. The professors were just getting back from their own war work, and didn't have much time for counseling. And so I was sort of at loose ends, and depressed, and my course work was poor, and I went around looking for my old college friends -- who were either in graduate school or already had graduated -- to get support, and they supported me. I remember trying to -- several of them were clustered up at MIT, and they said "Why don't you transfer here, and we'll help you?" So I tried to, but my early grades were so bad I couldn't get into MIT. People at MIT are a little embarrassed about that now.
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Leon Lederman

Nobel Prize in Physics

Leon Lederman: You've got to be hopeful and optimistic. Often, I remember sitting on the floor of an accelerator with a graduate student, looking at each other accusingly and he would say, "You're the professor, you get it working." I'd say, "You're the graduate student. It's your thesis, you get it working." And then, somehow, by five a.m. or so, between us, we'd find out why it wasn't working. It wasn't plugged in, or something even more significant than that. So we got it working.
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