As part of the annual Edinburgh International Science Festival in April, the School of GeoSciences, along with other departments from the University of Edinburgh, opened up a stall in the National Museum to show the public what the world of geosciences is all about. Among others, displays showed the role of greenhouse gases, the carbon cycle and the challenges of satellite research.

Edinburgh International Science Festival (image: Stephan Matthiesen)

Initiated within the school by Brian Cameron (MBE) and helped by a number of students and staff within the school including Douglas Finch, Amy Pickard, Pippa Stone, Kathleen Allen and Stephan Matthiesen, this was another successful year in what is becoming a firm tradition within the department.

It wouldn’t be a geoscience display without a table of rocks. This always popular, hands on, exhibit always brings delight to children and adults alike when they find that rocks and minerals aren’t just grey blocks. We showed hundreds of children and their parents that rocks can look like plastic (mica), float on water (pumice), be the colour of blood (hematite) or soak-up water (sandstone). Keeping with the geology theme, there were puzzles to put together the tectonic plates. Next to this was another popular exhibit: the challenge to build an earthquake-proof house. Using building blocks on a wobbling board, people began to understand the problems involved when building anything from a one storey house to a high rise building in an earthquake zone.

Tree ring display (image: Stephan Matthiesen).
Satellite display (image: Stephan Matthiesen)

People were given the opportunity to see sections of trees and count the tree-rings. We showed how trees grow at different rates and can help us in understanding the climate over 100 years ago. The public were invited to work out why some tree rings were larger than the others (more rain? more sunshine? less dense forest?) or why there were mysterious black rings round some (we suspect pollution was particularly bad in these years).

The School of GeoSciences is particularly proud of its involvement with remote sensing and this was shown with our satellite exhibition. A frame was set up around a model landscape with a snow-capped mountain, a lake and a forest. A ultra-sonic and laser distance measurer were attached to the frames, and the public could see the difference between the two types of sensors over different landscapes. They could also use infrared sensors around the room to measure the temperature of different things (a popular one with young boys as they look a little like guns…).

Greenhouse gases display (image: Stephan Matthiesen).

Lastly we also showed our role in the research of the atmosphere. We had a simple, yet successful experiment to show the effect of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Two identical bottles were set up with thermometers in them, partially filled with water but one had the addition of yeast and sugar to produce carbon dioxide (CO2). Both the bottles were set under a lamp, and over the course of the week the bottle with CO2 grew warmer than the plain bottle. We also showed some ideas for collecting data in the future such as CO2 sensors on quadcopters or in backpacks being worn around a city.

It was an incredibly successful week with an official count of 3499 people through the doors and we look forward to next year!