Unearthing a lifelong passion

Manuel Arab

Fourth-year Earth and Environmental Sciences student Manuel Arab accredits a second-year mineralogy course, Earth 231, and hands-on field experience for awakening his curiosity in unravelling the mysteries of the Earth.

Combining a geology major with a minor in classical studies, Arab has created a one-of-a-kind degree that closes the gap between scientific discovery and historical significance. 

“I was immediately hooked by the idea of being able to explore the natural environment,” says Arab. “Experiential learning has really helped me figure out where my passion lies.”

This summer, Arab was the only undergraduate student selected to take part in a Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) dig led by Curator Jean Bernard Caron and Parks Canada to the Burgess Shale.  

The shale is a famous fossil bed known for its preservation of soft bodied animals dating back to the Cambrian Explosion, an era of remarkable species diversification. To this day, the shale remains the main source of information scientists have about the Cambrian marine species that lived 505 million years ago. 

Burgess Shale

The Burgess Shale

Arab helped the team extract key fossils from the shale. He used tools such as splitting chisels and geological hammers to split rocks into one centimeter thin layers that were then examined for fossils. His work helped the team collect a large variety of rare and valuable specimens that will greatly help further research into this time period.

With Paleontology, you never know what you’ll find. It’s amazing to think that some of these fossils have just been here for the past 500 million years waiting to be uncovered.
- Manuel Arab

But this wasn’t his first expedition. Whether it’s collecting soil samples, excavating a desert ruin or digging for a fossil, Arab has been involved in it all. 

Last year he took part in an archaeological excavation in Jordan to uncover artifacts from a Roman smelting site. Arab worked as the ‘jack of all trades’ helping out with various tasks on site and gaining first-hand experience about mineralogy and sedimentology. The copper and pottery that the team uncovered taught him about an ancient trade route between Egypt and Jordan and furthered his appreciation for history. 

Outside of classes, his passion for teaching others about the past led him to a position as an Assistant Curator at the Earth Sciences Museum during the summer. Arab conducted museum tours with local school children to teach them about the history of dinosaurs, mineral formation and mining to help spark their interest in Earth Sciences.

“I’m really thankful for the support I received from the Museum community,” says Arab. “They made my experience at the ROM expedition worthwhile.” 

A special thanks to Earth Science Museum Curator Corina McDonald, alumnus Jim Reimer and ROM curator Jean Bernard Caron for making his trip to the Burgess Shale possible. Arab’s experiences, along with some of specimens and field gear from the trip will be featured in a new display, called the Laboratory of Life, at the Earth Science Museum. 

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