Category: Geology

Ada Lovelace Day 2017 – Dr Rebecca Wilson (by )

Today is Ada Lovelace Day - an annul celebration of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM), named after the Victorian mathematician and visionary Ada Lovelace.

Each year we try to do a little write up on women who have inspired us in the sciences. There are many entries for previous years - in fact later today I am going to make a special category for them all 🙂

This year I have chosen my friend Dr Rebecca Wilson.

Broken lift

Rebecca started off in Geology studying at Imperial College's Royal School of Mines, where she not only excelled in her own studies but helped me with some of the more advanced GeoChemistry elements, lending books and explaining things in multiple ways.

She was part of the posse that went with me to the Natural History Museum London to get work experience and helped me get into the meteoritics department. A PhD at the Planetary and Space Science Institute looking for organic material in micrometeorites.

She went on to post doc and research and science outreach at Leicester University and the associated Space Centre. During this time she developed some pretty awesome out reach kits. Those that can be available to the public/teachers are downloadable here.

Rebecca also won an science journalism internship which took her to Ireland, she has in fact been all over the globe studying, researching and presenting.

She has side stepped into medical data visualisation realm where she is pushing the frontiers of science ever forwards as well as highlighting the issues of accessibility on her various travels.

Rebecca has rubbed shoulders with the top people in both space and planetary science as well as within the deep data computering spheres not to mention the odd science communicator such as Brian Cox! Becca he is highly versatility and extremely dedicated and she is also a hell of a lot of fun to be around 🙂

She was even chosen by Jean for a school project on role models and heros!

Of Finger Prints, Stones and Old Bones… (by )

So last week I went to Bristol to meet up with my friend and walk around the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery which neither of us had yet been in even though we have lived in the area for years now. It was fantastic and I have loads of photos but that is not really what this post is about - no this is about a book I found in the shop on our visit.

I saw this book and I could not resist it! For a start I am doing a general interest talk on cave art etc... at the Gloucester Museum at the beginning of September and am doing some little bits of research trying to build some lovely maps up and this is exactly the sort of thing I want to be reading right now. And secondly when I started looking through it I realised that it was the write up of part of a group of projects that I helped out on during my work experience at the Natural History Museum London (it is actually an NHM publication) - it even has one of the people I was working with named in it! Simon Parfitt.

The project the book is about is the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain Project - I believe I was actually working on a European sister project but that they tied in together - I wasn't doing anything uber exciting - I wasn't out digging trenches against the clock like in Time Team - no I was sieving cave sediment and then pulling out "organic" material. This was one of my first encounters with each group having very specific meanings for words which don't always tie in with everyone else's definitions. I was a geologist - I realised they did not mean the Chemists idea of organic i.e. everything with carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in, nor the astrophysicists idea of organic i.e. anything that is heavier than helium (I think - it was something like that anyway and linked to star evolution), so I was going for the biologists definition with a bit of geology laid on top - I was pulling anything that had once been alive or had been created by living processes. However what the archaeologists actually meant was mammal teeth, bones and poo and maybe some insects if I was lucky!

This meant all the little cave corals I'd carefully extracted were a waste of everybody's time!

Still once I realised what I was supposed to be doing I got on with it. My friend had initially come along with me but she had too much work etc... so for most of the time it ended up being just me. I didn't actually like this - I'd liked it initially when the two paleo-anthropologist/archaeologists and their volunteer where there but most of the time it was just me and it was a faff to get in and there were often weird skulls plonked down on the workbench were I worked. I couldn't go and get coffee in the paleo department because my back was bad meaning I was having issues with my hands if I over taxed them - the door to the coffee/tea room was a big old heavy thing so there was no tea for me because I couldn't push the door open!

But I did like it when Simon gave me papers to read on the various types of animals I was finding - I remember thinking I'd found a hamster tooth - it was a little rodent - most of it was mice and bats teeth - what's living in the cave when tells you when it was and was not occupied by humans. And I liked it when the lady was in the office as she would get my coffee and tell me about how what she did for her work experience and the projects she was working on.

Sometimes I would get mistaken for a guy who worked in the department who had long hair - we both tended to have a thick plait and wear the same hippy/metal type t-shirts. I was quiet shy so it was always a shock to have some bloke slap you on the shoulder and then go into hyper babble as they realised I wasn't the person they thought I was!

I was also working in Meteoritics in Mineralogy - they gave me my own pass and it became easier to go in and work on rocks from space. And there were people in the lab... and I ended up with my own project. Even so I think Paleo would have kept me if the lab move hadn't happened.

In fact the museum could have had a lot more of us students and for longer but there was a miss communication. In our first year we had brazenly gone to the museum in a group of about give I think, and asked about work experience and voluntary positions. We were told that they kept those positions for final year students only, so we went away and awaited our final year. When we told the researches in both Mineralogy and palaeontology this tale they were horrified as that is not the case at all! And we had Wednesday afternoons off at uni for things such as sports or work experience.

Now the scientists Simon and Tiana(?) where great but were often just not about and because I didn't understand how academia worked I did not know that you were supposed to ask people to be your refs. I think I asked in general and Simon had said yes but I couldn't remember his surname so I put the ladies name down instead (ironically I currently can't remember it! Poss. head injury, poss. the passage of time and I think I only remembered Simon's as it was in the book!). Of course this kind of floored her and she asked me to warn her next time - me being shy... felt I'd upset her and had been stupid etc... but I don't tend to give up so would have continued with the work anyway - had not been for the lab move...

I was in lab (Anthropology 2 I think) when it was time for computer upgrade - the nhm is a large and sprawling thing and so though mineralogy had shiny computers in the early 00's - paleo did not and it was time for ethernet (everyone else was moving to wifi!). The guy came to install, the guy found the lab was lined with asbestos - I was sitting there at the time! - I don't know if that is the reason for the move but I know I wasn't happy with the situation as my granddad had died in 2000 of asbestosis (or rather the cancer caused by it!). Anyway all the stuff was moved and I was shown were it was but... I'm not good at remembering such things and they both went off on their digs and no one else knew where the samples were that I was supposed to be working on and... they'd finally given me a pass and all I could do with it was wonder aimlessly looking for the samples - so I left a message explaining and went and got on with stuff I could do in mineralogy and rocks from space.

And never heard from them again :'(

It's interesting because now I can see that it was me not knowing how things worked and being shy.

I still love Quaternary Science and all things to do with human and civilisation origins, I also still love the Pre-Cambrian and the questions surrounding the origins of life... and of course Space - I love stars and stuff and to me these things hold the same fascination - academically they are very different areas especially at post grad level. When I was considering doing a PhD this was one of my issues - which area to choose?

It was why I picked the MRes in research techniques in Earth Sciences - it taught the stuff used in all the areas so I was pretty much still looking for some breathing space before having to choose and I also felt I needed to bone up on the old maths and physics - without A'levels in them I had struggled through my degree and I felt I needed them to do proper science. I've been told that I am intuitive at maths by multiple people, I just don't have the basics or language in place to use it.

Of course that pathway did not work out for me and I ended up being the Geologist Running Scared.

I thought I'd stopped being a geologist - I'm an artists and writer now... I did the post grad in Practical Science Communication but that is science in general and is kind of just an extension to the writing and art and performance etc...

But I think that you can't stop being something you are - you might not be able to apply it and you may study something you aren't but I am and always have been a geologist.

And I think... I might not be the only one in this family anymore. I get excited about rocks, the girls now know my fern tree tale off by heart - I still tell them about giant cats/marestails every time I see the little plants.

Jean sometimes asks questions but was always more books and keyboards (even as a baby we had to give her a keyboard) but she still has a rock collection and has always been drawn to them 🙂

Mary also collects rocks, lots and lots of rocks and I have to stop her from pillaging other people driveways. Also bits of pot - to be fair her sister started this craze. At Blists Hill last week I had both of them geologing in different ways - Jean asking questions about the underlaying rock structures and formation processes and Mary steadily filling a bag that was getting heavier and heavier and watching metal pouring and general how to make things and getting excited about old mine workings.

Mary is a little confused about word definitions - she wants to be a hair dresser because they do art stuff and she already is an engineer, she says, but she also says she wants to be an artists because they find out how things are made and how they work - like Mummy is an artist and that includes science stuff because she has no concept of them being different things. She has collected stones and sticks and feathers since she could grab things. She loved the rocks in South Africa and Wales and will always find something to bring home.

This is very like I was - I had bags and bags of finds and it only solidified into an idea of something when I saw the giant dinosaur in the entrance hall of the Natural History Museum (I wanted to show it too her but will have to await the bronze replacement skeleton that is going in the gardens - I just don't think she will engage with the whale skeleton that now hands in the NHM's main entrance hall in the same way).

This summer we have also been to the dino exhibition at the Gloucester museum as well were we had to forcefully extract the girls! And of course we went to Jodrell Bank where she was awed by space and planets and rocks from space.

Her enthusiasm has awoken me to the wonders I love once more - I had shied away feeling a keen pain when I thought about geology and the academic world I was no longer a part of. I'd focused Cuddly Science on science and engineering in general and then last year we went on holiday with my brother down in Cornwall including looking at old mines and seeing the rocks along the beach and the kids all showed interest and I thought about how I needed my paleo posse puppets and set about designing things.

The trip to South Africa showed me that I could still read landscapes and that setting me loose on a mountain was going to result in everyone panicking when I lost track of time and didn't make the rendezvous.

This year I have thus ended up running archaeology and palaeontology workshops and drawing colouring sheets and looking at rocks and buying books on rocks. I count everything as rocks and rocks are everything from our origins to our futures to the stars and the seas. If they are not rock currently they are part of rock forming processes.... and so on.

I am excited. I was excited about the book I got at Blists Hill on general geology in Britain:

And the book from the museum: Britain - one million years of the human story. Both times Mary announced "BORING!" at the books (her general reaction to books (unlike her sister)) and both times I have found her either reading them/looking at the pictures or found sticky finger prints just the right size for a precocious little 6 yr old!

I don't think I a geologist in hiding or running scared anymore - I used to say "what use is a geologist on crutches/in a wheelchair?" I even wrote stories about a geologist who is injured and creates an exoskeleton so she can continue in the field. I know I will probably never be out in the field (even without the crutches) or in a lab and that does still make me sad (I am a high octane engine in a little skoda chassis). But also I've seen that light of wonder in kids eyes as I explain Mary Anning's discoveries to them - I know that the stones are in my bones and I can not stop being a geologist. And I am no longer alone - I have little rock minions to help me (even if one of them is now taller than me) 🙂

Cuddly Science At Country File Live (by )

Cuddly Science ready to go at Country File Live

The Cuddly Science Paleo Posse were really excited to be at Country File Live with the Gloucestershire Geology Trust. They got to perform on the Garden Stage of the Wildlife Zone and do a bit of walk about.

The puppets are Mary Anning, Charles Darwin and Mary Leakey and the associated props where a squid hair clip, a triceratops head piece and a brain hat. And together with the audience we explored evolution, landscape, history and science plus quiet a lot of improve humour in response to the kids 🙂

Cuddly Science Paleo Posse waiting in the Garden Stage of the Wildlife area at Country File Live

Walking around with the puppets doing little improve sets to let people know about the actual shows was fantastic - I really love this aspect of it.

Mary Anning the Puppet out and about explaining fossils at Country File Live

Children really do love the puppets - far more than I thought they would when I was designing the general concept! They get cuddled rather a lot. Coraline button eyes and all!

Cuddly Science explaining landscape and geology at Country File Live

Adults often end up in conversations with them as well!

Mary Anning the puppet looking for her pet squid in the Wildlife area of Country File Live

Mary Anning the puppet did seem to spend a lot of her time searching for her pet squid which the children helped her find - she then explained about cephalopod, belemnites and fossilised ink sacs and how looking at creatures alive today you tell a lot about extinct animals and vice versa.

Mary Anning the puppet looking for her pet squid in the Wildlife area of Country File Live

The squid was most popular and got one little one so excited I ended up giving her one of my My Pet Dinosaurs booklets as well as the colouring sheets as after finding the squid she just kept asking questions and she really was very little 🙂

Cuddly Science Paleo Posse on Stage at Country File Live

Mary Anning comes from Dorset so... apparently my accent was "not too bad, a little caricature but better than Poldark" - I'm happy with that 🙂 Though I will say whilst telling kids about the fossils in the Geo Trusts' tent I struggled with some of the dino names!

Cuddly Science Paleo Posse on the Garden Stage Country File Live

Kids actually came back for successive shows - this is what I found with the British Science Festival too, which is why I don't like just repeating material and try and swirl it all around a bit even if it is the same characters!

Mary Anning the puppet explaining how she discovered fossilised ink sacs at Country File Live

I am very pleased with how Mary Anning has turned out and she is such an easy character to play/envelope and as was said by a fellow story teller at Stroud Out Loud the week before - she's a story telling gift - such a colourful life right from infancy!

Talking rocks at Country File Live

She is also a good contrast to the other two characters who hated school as she loved it and worked really hard - this ticks my want boxes of role models/relatable things for as many kids as possible.

Cuddly Science on stage talking rocks Country File live

The Glos GeoTrust also sent a T-rex out with me to help let people know about the show - which was amazing and lit. got all the kids running over!

Glos GeoTrust T-rex planting a tree in the wildlife zone Country File Live

Of course the other puppets did also get on stage - though I failed to get a pic of Mary Leakey and the brain hat which is a shame.

Darwin Puppet explaining the bone wars and evolution at Country File Live

Darwin was very popular indeed and had to be rescued and placed back in his cryogenic chamber due to the kids wanting to play (I may need to re attach some hair!).

Big thankyou to the Glos Geo Trust and Country File Live and my lovely sound engineer who did tell me his name but I have since forgotten :/

Inbetween rests and performances I also helped out at the GeoTrusts tent - this contained both the Gloucester and Oxfordshire Geological Trusts and contained so much fun stuff!

Geo-Entertainments: when dealing with the public and geology - especially where kids are involved you tend to end up pulling out the dinosaurs. I know myself that the big things for me as a kid were finding my own bits of nature... sticks, feathers, shells, stones and fossils followed by the absolute WOW!!!! moment of the five year old me walking into the Natural History Museum London and seeing Dippy standing there. This was a huge dino skeleton reconstruction and dominated the great hall as you wandered in. I just remember the awe and the silence that enveloped me when what it was was explained. This began my dino madness which was fuelled further by films such as the Land Before Time and Jurassic Park.

The Gloucester Geology Trust knowing their local geology and what engages people have a lot of dino stuff on hand!

Dr Alice Kennedy showing off the T-rex replicas teeth at Country File Live

These photos are Dr Alice Kennedy showing people the T-rex reconstruction skull, it is one quarter the size of an actual t-rex skull because you know it has to actually fit in a car to be taken to shows, schools and events! (p.s. yes you can get your local Geo Trust to come into your school for talks and workshops, some even have funding to help with this!).

Dr Alice Kennedy explaining all things geologic at Country File Live

And of course there was the dino-dig! Excavation digs ie sandpits do seem to be really popular with kids (as the Archaeology Festival proved for Cuddly Science).

Dino sandpit dig Glos GeoTrust Country File Live

And who could forget the inflatable dinosaur!

T-rex planting a tree vexed by little tiny t-rex arms Country File Live

Yes it's planting a tree 🙂

T-Rex and the Bee out for a stroll Country File Live

Yes it went for a walk with a bee!

T-rex and Buzy Bumble going for a walk Country File Live

I believe it was an Oxford Friends of the Earth bee but I would not swear to it.

Fuzzy Buzzy Bees at Country File Live

There was a swarm of the things!

But dinosaurs what not the only thing they had bought:

The Geo-Trusts had an amazing array of rocks, fossils, maps and reconstructions with them, including a hadrosaur head banging bit and the Buckland Megalosaurus jaw (yes I know more dinos but shhh). There was a mix of fossils and reconstructions, not to mention a map or two.

Fossils and reconstructions with Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire Geo Trusts

Fossil shrimp! Just look at the preservation on this little fellow!

Fossil Shrimp Glos Geo Trust Country File Live

I loved this cute velociraptor skull which got me into many an argument with kids who've seen the Jurassic Park Franchise films but have yet to delve deeper into the mists of deep time and dino-lore!

velociraptor skull Glos Geo Trust Country File Live

People who have known me and Al for a while will know we call each other polyp and kids as well... this is because when we first started going out I'd just started my paleo-biology module and was fast becoming obsessed with colonial and modular organisms such as bryozoans and corals (and plants for that matter). Polyps are the little creatures (v. similar to zooids) and I explained the concept to Al and he would pretend to be in a polyp tube and so on... This is why I got rather over excited at these fossil corals etc... 🙂

Fossil corals and modular organisms in the geology tent Country File Live

On one of my University interviews - Birmingham I think - I was given a fossil to try and identify - I thought it was a coral. It wasn't it was a mammoth tooth dredged from the English channel (I think it was a long time ago!). This misidentification burned what a mammoth's tooth looks like into my brain and thus when I saw this little one I knew what it was instantly (I still checked though before telling kids that that was what it was!). I never got to do the vertebrate paleo module which made me very sad and working that the Natural History Museum I was limited to the projects I was working on so didn't really get a broad look at macro/large fossils. The thing that looks like a shiny slither of tree is - it is fossil wood 🙂

Baby mammoth tooth and fossilised wood Gloucestershire geological trust

Dino-Roar! This is a view into the T-rex reconstruction skull - it is angled slightly upwards so you can really see the shape of the teeth. The Natural History Museum used to have little workshops on working out what you could tell about an animal from the skull/teeth/eye sockets ie diet, predation and social structure so I may have wibbled about this to the kids a lot.

Dino roar T-rex reconstruction skull veiw into the mouth at an upward angle

Shiny sand dollar! Look at that five fold symmetry!

Fossil Sand Dollar Glos Geological Trust Country File Live

Glos Geo Trust also had fossil making with plaster of paris with moulds from actual fossils, and a badge maker. And the Ox Geo Trust has 3D dino skull masks and little dino puppets which I sadly failed to get any photos of because to be quiet frank it was really quiet busy!

Paleo Posse (by )

Cuddly Science now has a Paleo Posse - very similar to the Awesome Archaeology team but with the addition of Darwin and some special head gear 🙂

Cuddly Sciences Paleo Puppet Posse with props!

So we have Mary Anning known as the Princess of Palaeontology who was a poor girl from Dorset who made her name collecting and studying fossils - she's the one in the bonnet and has a squid head piece accompanying her as she discovered fossilised ink sacks and would study modern creatures to see how they compared to the fossil creatures she was finding!

Then there is Charles Darwin who came up with the theory of evolution, he had many adventures on the high seas and was massively influenced by the new geological finds that were coming from people like Mary Anning and the Bone Wars! Where there were fights over the fossils bones of dinosaurs and were to find them! He has a reconstruction of a dino head with him.

Lastly but not least is the archaeologists, physical anthropologists and paleo-anthropologist Mary Leakey who worked on everything from Roman ruins to iron age sites to neolithic caves complete with stunning cave paintings to finding the remains of what appear to be the ancestors of humans paving the way for more insight into how our brains evolved. There is a brain hat to help her explain!

The paleo posse are preparing for their first outing as a team to Country File Live (2017).

Cuddly Sciences Paleo Posse getting ready for Country File Live

August Events! (by )

August dates: Thurs 3rd Cuddly Science goes to Country File Live, Sun 6th running a Poetry Workshop at Waterstones Gloucester 2-4, Tuesday 8th Villanelles SpaceHoppers Stroud 6:30 for Poetry, weekend 11-13th Cranham Feast doing various, Sun 20th True Believers Comic Festival: Summer Variant Edition in Gloucester for my zines/books/art prints and cosplay etc..., Mon 21st Villanelles Chelteham for poetry performance, Thurs 31 Villanelles Gloucester running free poetry workshop during the first hour. I think that is everything - the Soulfull Festival has sadly been cancelled and then September sees me back with craft workshops and history talks!

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