About the Story
Penny Chisholm and Molly Bang have been friends for many years, Penny is a scientist; Molly is a writer and illustrator who also likes science. Molly's parents were both scientists, but she herself failed most of her science courses in college. She got a C in biology only because she made beautiful drawings of starfish as part of her term paper. But she loves learning about what scientists are doing and discovering.
Both of us wanted to do something so children would love some of the science that we love. Or rather, we wanted children to get a sense of the awe we feel as we learn about how life works. We had talked about making a book for several years, and our first one, Living Sunlight, was about photosynthesis — how plants catch sunlight and turn it into sugar, at the same time making oxygen gas, which then floats out of their leaves into the air.
But Penny's real research love is phytoplankton, the tiny one-celled plants that float at the surface waters of the seas. She wanted to make a book about how important these are to all life on Earth – especially because most people have never seen or even heard of them. So we began to write Ocean Sunlight. A year and a half and 134 versions of the story later, the book is finished. As the story kept changing, word by word, detail by detail, Molly kept changing the pictures as well. But she had to throw away only about 4 of the ones that were completely finished.
Penny has been studying phytoplankton for about 30 years, but about 15 years ago she discovered one of the most important plants in the world, This means(important for people and all life on landas well as for life in the sea). Here's what happened: Penny and a colleague named Rob Olsen were using a new instrument at sea: a flow cytometer. The flow cytometer measures the color of light bounced off a cell when it's hit by a laser light. Different kinds of cells give off slightly — but recognizably — different light as they're hit, so the color of the light is like an identifying fingerprint for various kinds of living cells.
Penny and Rob were trying to identify how many of what kinds of phytoplankton were floating in the ocean where they were working. But they ran into trouble. The flow cytometer showed “fingerprints” that were different from any of the fingerprints they expected. The two scientists figured there must be something wrong either with their measurements or with the machine. Or maybe they just didn't quite know how to use it yet. They went home determined to figure it out.
But the strange fingerprints of light kept showing up in water from different parts of the ocean. Penny looked more closely, until she finally saw that the strange light was coming from tiny plant cells, many, many times smaller than any known before. Eventually she showed that these tiny cells were so plentiful that their mass was equal to all the other ocean phytoplankton put together. These tiny single-celled plants are called Prochlorococcus and they produce ONE QUARTER of all the oxygen in our air. So you see that they are rather important for not only sea life, but for us humans as well.
Ocean Sunlight tells how Procholorcoccus, and all the other tiny one-celled phytoplankton in the sea catch the sun’s energy and pass it on to all the marine animals. It tells how these same plants give us the oxygen we need for our own lives on Earth.