Mingling in the Speakers’ Lounge

Iain Stewart gives his talk on The Story of the Continents

When first accepted as a speakers’ lounge assistant for this year’s Festival I was excited at the prospect of a glamorous setting; a place where the speakers and I would relax, exchange anecdotes and generally have the time of our lives. And this is exactly what I got. But what I didn’t expect was everything that came with it.

As a geology graduate I was particularly excited about the earth science scene here in Aberdeen. I knew that the Festival was holding a number of geological events, but wasn’t quite sure how they would be received by the general public. So, during my time off from schmoozing with the likes of Brian Cox, Bill Bryson and Michael Mosley (whose talk included everything from spontaneous human combustion to the recreational use of nitrous oxide), I went to see some of the events for myself.

My first surprise was that many of the geoscience events were full to capacity. The efforts to popularise geology by organisations like the British Geological Survey and Geological Society of London – who both organised events here in Aberdeen – are obviously becoming effective. In addition, a string of popular geoscience TV programmes, figure-headed by people like Iain Stewart (also appearing at this year’s Festival), are all contributing to the recognition of the importance of geology within our society – which is great!

My personal highlight amongst the comprehensive timetable was an event called The Heat Beneath our Feet. Hosted by a number of hydro-geologists from the BGS, the event was packed with scientific information that was uniquely demonstrable. The scientists explained that the heat contained within the first 50-150 m of the Earth’s subsurface could be used to provide a clean energy solution to households across the UK. By coupling boreholes that penetrate the water table with a heat pump – a technology invented way back in 1834 – the scientists can provide hot water to households at a fraction of the energy deficit compared to conventional gas-powered heating systems. The event was complimented by some fantastic demonstrations, including a racing bike hooked up to a car’s radiator and an industrial-sized hot plate illustrating the thermal properties of rocks.

The technology showcased this week, which is already used to great effect around continental Europe, could make huge contributions towards Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions targets, which are set to be reached by 2020.

On reflection, my initial expectations were way off. Away from the ‘glitz and glamour’ of the speakers’ lounge the festival is tackling cutting-edge concerns that have implications for the future across all scientific disciplines. That’s what the Festival is all about, and that is a legitimate reason for excitement.

———–

David Chapman is a geology graduate from the University of Plymouth and was selected to be a part of the Speakers’ Lounge Assistants team at this year’s Festival. He is interested in the communication of popular geoscience and science writing, which he explores in his blog, Geoscience Lines, and you can follow him on Twitter, @geosciencelines.

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