National Geographic : 1985 Nov
On Assignment BEING LOCKED IN ROCK for one to two million years might seem the ultimate in stability. Yet now the Taung child could not move so much as 1/1000 of a millimeter 1/25,000 of an inch-if Kenneth Haines (right)was to translate his laser beam into a hologram for this month's cover. Haines, a sci entist in optics with the eye of an artist, had made the eagle hologram for our historic March 1984 cover. This time, however, Haines was working not in his own American Bank Note Company laboratory in Elmsford, New York, but half a world away at the National Physical Research Laboratory in Pretoria, South Africa. He was there thanks to Philip V. Tobias (below), dis tinguished anatomist and paleoanthropologist at the University of the Witwatersrand. Suc cessor to Raymond Dart, who in 1924 had first recognized the importance of Africa's Taung child to the study of human ancestry, Tobias gave enthusiastic and crucial help. Haines had thought his work would take three weeks, but he found that the South Afri can laboratory, while fine for laser research, was not well suited to making holograms. Some of the problems: The laser was in a separate room and had to be beamed into a room not itself light-tight or clean enough. The fossil-mounting structure was not stable enough. (That latter problem alone took four weeks to solve.) The fossil had been protected with coatings that reflected too much light. Then Murphy's Law took over. The laser had to be repaired; then it broke; then another had to be flown in from Haines's laboratory. This all compounded the central problem: The priceless skull could not be altered in any way, or even handled, in making the hologram. Meanwhile, photographer Jonathan Blair was recording the work for the magazine and producing a documentary film of the event. With the continual all-day and half-the night help of machinist and laser scientist Cor nelis Van der Hoeven, "who was invaluable to me," Haines pressed on for six weeks to make what he considered an acceptable hologram. "Perhaps we were being a little too picky, but I don't think so," he says.