Ed's Blog / Students Blogs

Days 2 and 3 @ the British Science Festival by Ed

Day 2 at the festival began with a series of lectures entitled ” Our Fossil-Fuelled Future”. Given by members of the Palaeotology Association this wasn’t about Dinosaurs or the more familiar side of this science. Instead it focused on how the rotting organic matter becomes fossil fuels, or hydrocarbons and how the study of trace fossils, Ichnology, fossilised pollen and spores, Palynology (taken from the Greek, ‘Palyn’ for pollen) and microfossils can aid the fossil fuel industries. For instance many trace fossils (fossilised traces of ancient organisms behaviour) are sediment specific and therefore can be used to distinguish different environments when looking for hydrocarbons. Similarly the study of microfossils can help bio steering, which is using biological techniques to ensure the companies are drilling in the correct place. Microfossil biologists can use the consistency of the similar fossils to ensure the drilling is in the right hydrocarbon reservoir. To highlight the contribution this kind of science makes to the fossil fuel industries, in 2005 alone Microfossil biologists added $2 billion worth of value to oil exploration. Not bad for a ‘scientist with a microscope sifting through mud’. Unfortunately the number of Microfossil biologists and the courses to train them is on the decline. Interestingly, a new Microfossil biologist masters begins at Birmingham in October…….Hummmm maybe a change in career?

The next two lectures I attended “Behind the Scences with Michael Mosley” and “Conversations with Humans and Non-humans” were also attended by the rest of the gang and have been covered in their blogs. What I will add though is that I found the conversations with humans etc a very disappointing series of lectures. From reading the programme it promised to be a fascinating group of talks exploring whether we should treat non-human entities, including plants as sentient beings. I felt the talks failed to address this, with one speaker spending more time promoting the talents of a man called Big Jake. Now Big Jake was exceptionally talented at mimicking bird song, but did I really need to hear a 5 minute clip of him and his greater spotted reed wabler impersonation? I’m not so sure. The session did get interesting when discussion was opened up to the floor, as scientists and members of the public began to explore this topic, but naturally this was cut short as time ran out.

Day 3, or as it became to be known Cox day. For reasons explained later. Two talks I attended looked at promoting and engaging young people in science. The first “Developing Science Talent in the Uk” , explored the role industry could make in promoting STEM activities in schools. It was run by BP, one of the sponsors of the festivals. They addressed issues like how do we inspire more females into STEM jobs, as presently there are only 10% employed, and exactly what kind of schemes industry can provide to support these subjects. This debate made me realise the importance industry may have throughout all education and that thier support and funding may be a nesscessity when regarding STEM subjects. The second talk “Active Learning in Science” was given by Professor Wynne Harlem, who has spent a great amount of time promoting the importance of science in schools. She introduced the concept of active learning, that is the allowing the learners themselves to make sense of the world. The idea works best at primary school level, and basically involves developing ideas and concepts through enquiry, planting an idea and letting the pupils run with it. Wynne was extremely passionate and inspirational. Theses two very different talks gave me some great public engagement ideas.

Right, let’s talk Cox. Everyday at the festival the BSA hold the Xchange, which is a free event held in the Speigeltent over the lunch. Presented in almost a chat show format it includes some of the presenters giving talks that day in little bite sized interviews to promote their talks. Today was exciting as Brian Cox was in town, so it was a little packed. I was determined to get a picture and luckily I did, I may have come across a little sickafantic, or mental but hopefully he’s used to that. He was here with Jeff Foreshaw to give a talk in the evening about the quantum universe which I had a ticket for. It was great although maybe half an hour was a little short too short to convey some of the ideas they were trying to get across. I thought they were great together, especially Jeff Foreshaw who was physically bubbling with enthusiasm, like a particle physist Morcombe and Wise, perhaps there’s something in this ? Any how enough of my rambling I’m off to the Charles Lyell Award Lecture: What do Dwarf Elephants have to do with Climate Change!

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