Saturday, 14 March 2009

NOCS open day

I was a helper at today's NOCS open day for the public. We open our doors each year during/around Science Week to give whoever's interested a glimpse of the sort of work we do in Southampton. It's mostly families with young children who come along, but we do get quite a range, including quite a number of interested senior citizens.

Although us modellers can sometimes struggle to communicate our rather esoteric, simulated work, we were greatly assisted by the rental of this rather brilliant prop ...

It allows us to project animated model output onto a 2 m diameter sphere. The movie shown here is a rather boring one that I created of anthro CO2 invasion of the ocean, but some of the others that we had were pretty spectacular. Particularly some of the ones showing high resolution ocean physics - they look so good you can almost believe they're real (says a modeller). The globe acted as a pretty great ambassador for modelling, and certainly drew in a lot of visitors - even if some of them were more impressed by the "padding movies" of dolphins than those of our research.

Probably down to me not knowing when to shut-up, I had a number of long chats with various people about what we had on display, the science of climate change and careers in research. One chap, who I initially pegged as a climate "skeptic", wound up discussing socio-economics and the Club of Rome (of all things!) with me.

I had a really very encouraging chat with a woman who, while not a "skeptic", drew from what she'd heard in the media about climate change in the past to question how important the upcoming changes will be. It's a fair point, since most climate science TV programmes fail to mention that what's really significant about the anthropocene is not the changes that are happening per se, but rather the speed at which they're happening. The Earth has had much higher atmospheric CO2 in the past, and has had a much warmer climate, but generally the changes that have occurred have taken place relatively slowly. Anyway, by the end of a very long and rambling chat (taking in climate change vs. mountain-dwelling rodents, sediments, the PETM, her daughter's high school subject choices and science careers), she seemed convinced that I'd told her something new, and that she'd revised her slightly skeptical views. Of course, she could just have been being polite.

Anyway, the day was a lot of fun. As scientists we often pooh-pooh public understanding of science as a new buzzword, but my experience is that the public are genuinely interested and get a lot out of it, and that it's really a very satisfying way to spend a day. That and we got a free lunch.

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