British Science Festival 2012 – Focus on Geoscience

The best from the Geology Section of this year’s festival

This year the British Science Festival, the flagship event of the British Science Association, will occupy the city of Aberdeen from the 4th to the 9th of September. The city, famed for its granite architecture, will play host for the first time since 1963.

The festival is this year hosted by the University of Aberdeen and is one of Europe’s largest celebrations of all things scientific. Its broad spectrum includes content from all areas of science, technology and engineering. All incorporated into over 250 events, activities, exhibitions and trips. With over 350 of the UK’s top scientists, researchers and science communicators – including Bill Bryson, Brian Cox and Iain Stewart – Aberdeen will be the hub of the science community for six days this September.

The University of Aberdeen. The hosts of this year’s festival.

With a 54-page programme, there really is something for everyone at this year’s festival. The roster includes events that fall into five audience levels: families, everyone, all adults, adults with some knowledge of the topic, and professionals.

Each major scientific discipline has a designated ‘section’ within the festival programme; geology being no exception. Each section has a President, Section Recorder, and Section Communications Officer. For the Geology Section these are Dr Lawrence Donnelly, of the IUGS initiative on forensic geology; Dr Richard Waller, of Keele University; and Dr Aofie O’Mongain, of the British Geological Survey. “I help to arrange and organise sessions at successive festivals in collaboration with organisations like the Geological Society of London, the Geologists’ Association and the British Geological Survey” said Geology Section Recorder, Dr Richard Waller.

The Geology Section seeks to ‘emphasise the relevance of geoscience to society, to explain the dramatic processes that shape our planet and to provide anyone who attends [the festival] the opportunity to meet and chat with some of the best known and active researchers in the field.’ This year includes subject matter such as the Earth’s magnetic field, climate change and – no doubt influenced by the primary sponsors of the festival, Shell and BP – myriad events centred on the fossil-fuel industry. The Geology Section also includes a field excursion, providing participants an opportunity to ‘stretch their legs and get out into the country’s spectacular landscape.’

With so much to see in such a short time, here is a run-down of the most hotly-anticipated geoscience events set to feature during the festival.

Tuesday 4th September

14.00 – 15.00 The Natural Gas Revolution
Organised by one of the festival’s principal sponsors, Shell, this talk will look at the role natural gas has to play in the world’s future energy needs. The talk explores how projects such as Shell’s Pearl GTL plant will help to meet the on-going stresses on energy supply and demand.

Venue: King’s Quad, Lecture Theatre 8, King’s College, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level: All adults Price: Free

15.30 – 17.30 The Future of Our Polar Regions: What Must We Do and How Can Science Help?
This two-hour event is a joint venture between the University’s Cryosphere and Climate Change group and the UK Polar Network. Audiences can participate by asking questions and voting on any issues raised. The talk also features an exhibition including polar fieldwork clothing, science equipment and field video diaries.

Venue: Fraser Noble Building, Lecture Theatre 2, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level:Everyone Price: Free

Wednesday 5th September

10.00 – 12.00 Our Fossil-Fuelled Future
Liam Herringshaw – post-doctoral researcher of palaeontology at the University of Aberdeen, 2006-2008 and blogger – asks what role do fossils have to play in everyday life? Liam, and other experts in the field, will investigate techniques used in the understanding of fossils and fossils fuels; answering the question of why they matter.

Why do fossils matter? Join Liam Herringshaw to find out!

Venue: Regent Building, Regent Lecture Theatre, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level:Everyone Price: Free

13.00 – 15.00 The Limits of Oil and Gas
This talk is organised by the University of Aberdeen and aims to delve into the issues emerging within the oil and gas industry. By looking at a variety of aspects from within the industry, the talk will be of interest to multi-disciplinary audience.

Venue: Regent Building, Regent Lecture Theatre, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level: All adults Price: Free

13.00 – 15.00 May the Force Be with Us: What Does Earth’s Magnetic Field Do for Us?
This will be, undoubtedly, one of the highlights of the programmed geoscience events. Organised by the Geological Society of London, it features three experts from the field of geophysics. Dr Kathy Whaler, professor of geophysics at the University of Edinburgh, will discuss how the Earth’s magnetic field is generated. Dr Jenny Tait, also from Edinburgh, seeks to inform participants of how the magnetic field has formed the basis of understanding for major branches of Earth Science and continues to do so today. Finally, Dr Ciaran Beggan, a geomagnetic specialist from the British Geological Survey, will consider the fate of the planet during the next magnetic reversal, whilst also pondering when this might happen.

Venue: Meston Building Lecture Theatre 1, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level: All adults Price:Free

Thursday 6th September

11.15 – 12.45 The Heat beneath our Feet
Investigate the science behind a potential new clean energy source: the internal heat of the Earth. The event aims to explain the links between the geology beneath our feet and the potential for using Earth’s thermal store as a source of energy. Organised by the British Geological Survey, this event features a ‘cycle your way to a hot bath’ challenge and a post-talk 3D visualisation suite (spaces limited).

Venue: Regent Building, Regent Lecture Theatre, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level: Everyone Price: Free

Friday 7th September

10.00 – 12.00 Life Down Below: The Search for a Deep Biosphere on Earth
This event looks into the world of the sub-surface; asking questions of where life may exist in the world beneath the topography, both on our home planet and others. Organised by the University of Aberdeen and supported by the Astrobiology Society of Britain this looks to be an exciting and novel approach to discovering new life in our universe.

Venue: Fraser Noble Building, Lecture Theatre 2, University of Aberdeen.       Audience Level: Everyone Price: Free

12.00 – 13.00 Charles Lyell Award Lecture: What do Dwarf Elephants Have to do with Climate Change?
This year’s award lecture, namesake of the great British geologist Charles Lyell, was awarded to Dr Victoria Herridge, post-doctoral researcher and resident dwarf-elephant-expert at the Natural History Museum. Dr Herridge uses the fossils of now extinct dwarf elephant species, from islands around the globe, to make inferences about climate changes in the recent geological past. Island species are often highly specialised and fast-evolving; the study of these animals, and other dwarf island-species, can inform us about fast-acting climate variability and the impacts of future climate change on animals alive today.

Venue: King’s College Conference Centre, Auditorium, University of Aberdeen Audience Level: Everyone Price: Free

Join Victoria Herridge to discover the links between dwarf-elephants and climate change.

Saturday 8th September

18.00 – 19.00 The Story of the Continents
Another highlight of the week for the Geology Section, this evening talk features geologist and television personality, Professor Iain Stewart. Iain Stewart has become the face of British popular geology in recent years, balancing his career as professor of Geoscience Communication at Plymouth University with various appearances and presenting roles for the BBC. This talk gives a preview of his latest endeavour: a four-part series in which he tells story of the major continents, one by one.

Iain Stewart will be telling the ‘Story of the Continents’.

Venue: Arts Lecture Theatre, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level: All adults Price: £10.00, concessions £8.00 *Book signing in Elphinstone Hall: £19.00

12.00 – 18.00 Whisky on the Rocks
Combining local geology with local whisky, this adults-only affair is led by geologist Steve Cribb. The six-hour journey takes you to sites of special geological interest as well as to a whisky distillery – exploring the role geology has to play in the process. The highly experienced Steve Cribb will no doubt be a delightful tour guide and play the perfect host for this very unique event.

Venue: Coach pick-up-point, University of Aberdeen. Audience Level: All adults Price: £10 (includes whisky tasting).

So, there you have it. The best this year’s festival has to offer for the geoscience community. There are many more events not mentioned in this preview and only by exploring the programme for yourself will you discover them all!

Tickets can be booked by phone (08456 807 207), online at the festival website or in person at the Aberdeen Box Office, Music Hall.

For any and all additional information please visit the British Science Festival’s website,

Be sure to check back next week when Geoscience Lines will be bringing you up-to-the-minute content from around the festival.

Follow Geoscience Lines on Twitter (@geosciencelines) for the latest content and check out previous posts on Curiosity’s geological mission and some interesting earthquake research from New Zealand.


David Chapman


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About David

I'm currently alive and well, though this is subject to change. I live in London.

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