NERC Into the Blue – the Science We Live and Breathe

Email: d.l.a.flack@pgr.reading.ac.uk

One of the key aspects of science is communicating our work, not only to other scientists but also to the public. As part of the Manchester Science Festival the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) have been holding a number of events and last week (25 – 29 Oct) Into the Blue (a science showcase) was held at the Runway Visitor Centre underneath the wings of a Concorde. Along with a fellow PhD student from Reading (Kieran Hunt, who helped out on a stand about the monsoon) I was privileged to help man a stand (on flash flooding).

The event was used to showcase all the science that NERC funds from the atmosphere through to ecology. There were 40 exhibits and the chance to take tours of Concorde and the FAAM aircraft.

Concorde (left) and FAAM aircraft (right)

Exhibits involved a variety of interactive activities from making clouds in a bottle, using Infra-red cameras, making rivers in sand boxes, meeting Boaty McBoatface and a virtual reality flash flood!

During the quieter moments at their stands the exhibitors were allowed to wander around the rest of the event (including getting tours on the planes). In doing this we were able to talk to a number of different scientists about their work and engage in all the activities.

Personal highlights for me were touring both the Concorde and the FAAM aircraft. Although the best bit was the interaction with the public and being able to give everyone (no matter the age, from kids to adults) a “wow moment”.

The stand I was helping run was called FlashFlood! This stall was run predominantly by the University of Hull on behalf of the Flooding From Intense Rainfall (FFIR) project. They had created a virtual reality flash flood that was based on a real event (Thinhope Burn, 17 July 2007) which enabled us to place the stand’s visitor into a river valley and take them through the process of flooding from intense rainfall and how floods can change the characteristics of the rivers. It also gave us the ability (because of the case we had chosen) to show people that just because its not raining heavily at your location does not mean you won’t get flooded.

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Having virtual reality was a massive draw for people to come to our stand so we were always fairly busy, but the feedback we had was very positive with the most frequent comments being,

  • “It felt like I was really there”
  • “It really helps me to visualise the science”
  • “Wow, this is really amazing”.

Comments like this really make events such as Into the Blue worth while for us as scientists as we then realise we are getting our messages through to people, and it shows the usefulness of scientific research to the public.

Events like this can be exhausting, but they are definitely worth the effort as you get to see the delight of the public as they learn about different science and have fun at the same time.

A big thank you must be said to NERC and Manchester Runway Visitor Centre for organizing and hosting the event and to all the exhibitors who did a great job in communicating science to the public.

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