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Cafe Sci

Virtual Café Sci | Archaeological mapping from airborne LiDAR

Wednesday, 16th December 2020

Dr. Chris Smart will be talking to us about preliminary results from a volunteer-led programme in South West Britain.

About the talk

This talk will give an overview of a new crowd-sourced project, created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, which involves members of the public volunteering to systematically explore airborne LiDAR data and map ‘new’ archaeological sites and relics of the historic landscape.

The work is one part of the University of Exeter’s ‘Understanding Landscapes’ project, which is funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This research focuses on Devon and Cornwall and, whilst the new discoveries span all periods in history (from Prehistoric to 19th-century), this presentation will focus on some of those which illuminate the Iron Age and Roman periods.

About our speaker – Dr. Chris Smart

Chris Smart is a landscape archaeologist at the University of Exeter who specialises in the heritage of Roman and medieval Britain. He currently runs the National Lottery Heritage Fund project ‘Understanding Landscapes’ which is engaging the public in research on Roman and medieval landscapes in Devon and Cornwall, UK

Coffee with CSC

Edible Ecosystems – A Greenspace Revolution?

Thursday, 3rd December 2020

Tristan Holmes will present his ideas about how edible ecosystems could and should play a vital role in addressing community challenges.

At this Coffee with Cornwall Science Community, Tristan Holmes will present his ideas about how edible ecosystems could and should play a vital role in addressing some of the biggest challenges faced by communities.

Tristan will talk about key problems he has come across during his past career, university and working with communities that led to the discovery of alternative, small scale, bio-intensive agriculture and how it could be used as a movement of positive change in urban green spaces.

Tristan will share with you, how he and likeminded individuals formed a relationship with a very special community that led to the development of a community interest company, a platform that would allow us to be taken seriously by local councils to design and create a regenerative, edible ecosystem as a model that he hopes will be rolled out as an alternative management technique for community green spaces for a more sustainable future for his children.

About our speaker

Tristan Holmes isn’t sure what to call himself having studied various degree level courses with various names but is sure that he is an environmental scientist of sorts. Tristan having lost confidence in his career in ex-situ conservation, feeling overwhelming despair that species habitats were being lost quicker than the animals he was breeding could reproduce.

He decided he would retrain as an ecologist. Tristan joined Cornwall College and completed FdSc Conservation and Ecology and BSc Environmental Resource Management and continues his Research Masters into the effects of agro-chemicals on soil fauna, during which time he discovers the horrors that typical agriculture and urban land management inflicts on the environment, biodiversity and communities.

Surely there was an alternative way to manage land more sustainably whilst partially solving a wealth of social problems? Tristan developed a special friendship with a likeminded Conor Kendrew during his studies with their skill sets combined providing the tools they would need to work with communities, local councils and developers to create ‘Agro-ecological Urban Micro Farming CIC’, a platform to allow them to design and create a model, edible ecosystem. A regenerative, urban future forest.

What is Coffee with CSC?

Coffee with CSC is similar to our Virtual Café Sci events, but a little shorter. This will typically consist of a short talk (around 20 minutes), followed by a Q&A /discussion with the whole session lasting up to an hour. You are not obliged to stay for the full duration so if you’re pushed for time or just want to see the talk do please come along for the first half hour.

Cafe Sci

John of Trevisa – A Mediaeval Man of Science?

Wednesday, 25th November 2020

Robin Johnson will be giving a talk about John of Trevisa, a Cornish man who then translated Aristotle’s science writings into English.

About the talk

Robin will be telling the story of John de Trevisa, one of the first Cornishmen ever to go to university; who then translated Aristotle’s science writings into English; and quite probably, in his youth, was one of the key translators of Wycliffe’s bible.

It’s a story with history, science, politics and Cornwall in it.

It’s also got rebellion, danger, intrigue, powerful protectors and attempted character assassination.

Robin’s talk will attempt to tell the story, as best we can piece it together; and through this, we can explore the boundaries between history and science, translation and polemic, and the contributions each can make to understanding of the historical, social, and intellectual world.

Article Series

Blue Health – the benefits of landscapes featuring water

by Jessica Forsyth

Often after making it through a stressful week at work or whilst going through a challenging life event, we experience the instinctive urge to immerse ourselves into nature. In fact, hearing someone say ‘I need to take a walk’ or ‘I need to get some fresh air’ when they are feeling a bit run down is fairly commonplace. But is there any science behind why the outdoors seems to act as a natural medicine and any evidence that being outdoors actually benefits our health?

In recent years there has been increasing interest in the positive impact that getting out into nature and exploring wild spaces can have for our health and wellbeing, both physical and mental. This idea has broadly been termed ‘Green Health’. As this field of research has expanded, the concept of ‘Blue Health’, that is, ‘the impacts of time spent alongside, in, or under water’ has gained a considerable amount of attention. This attention largely stems from scientists’ comparisons of the health benefits of a variety of natural landscapes which appears to suggest that there are distinct health benefits of being in landscapes featuring water, otherwise referred to as ‘blue spaces’.

One project taking a greater look into these benefits is BlueHealth, a pan-European research project led by Exeter University’s European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH). During the last four years, over 20 studies have been carried out in more than 18 different countries aimed at gaining an insight into how urban blue spaces affect people’s wellbeing. All over the world people live at the boundaries between water and land – whether it be in coastal areas or along riverbanks. Providing evidence that proximity to blue spaces can have a positive impact on health and wellbeing will help to influence urban planning, encouraging the incorporation of urban-water interfaces as a key feature of any newly planned space.  

The benefits incurred from exploring blue spaces are numerous but one particularly interesting one is the impact it has on our train of thought and sense of self-importance. It is very easy to become consumed by everyday things; the weekly shopping, the trials and tribulations associated with work and the jobs that need doing around the house. Dr Mathew White, who works on the BlueHealth project explains that when we go for a walk on the beach there tends to be “a transition towards thinking outwards towards the environment…putting your life in perspective, if you like.” Indeed, when walking along the beach or a coastal cliff top in Cornwall, it is quite hard to stop yourself becoming overwhelmed by the brooding landscape that surrounds you. Standing looking out to sea serves as a reminder of the fact we are part of something much bigger than just the life we lead, we are part of an ecosystem, and spending time in landscapes or environments much ‘greater than we are, diminishes our own sense of self-importance’. Sometimes this reminder that our troubles are small in comparison to the landscape we stand in, can be a powerful way of grounding us and returning a sense of calm back into our, otherwise, chaotic lives.

The benefits of blue health are now so well recognised that in 2010 it led to the establishment of the world’s first surf-therapy course funded by the NHS. The Wave Project was set up in Watergate Bay in Cornwall with the aim of using surfing to support mental health. After an initial pilot run it was concluded that it provided ‘a demonstrable and cost-effective way to deliver mental health care’ and has since been prescribed to those suffering from anxiety and a range of other mental health conditions including depression, and schizophrenia.  In recent years the importance of understanding mental health and finding new ways to help those suffering with it has grown. Projects such as this provide a clear example, and direct evidence, of the benefits that tapping into the medicine of nature can provide and will hopefully act to encourage the set-up of similarly effective programmes.

A quote by Sophie Hellyer, former British and English surfing champion, describes the effect of being in the sea on her wellbeing; ‘The ocean can change your mood: if you think you’re sad it makes you happy, if you’re feeling stressed it makes you calm. It’s like hitting the reset button’.

Using nature to help reset ourselves is something we should all, where possible, take advantage of. Whether it be going for a surf, if you are lucky enough to have access to blue spaces like the sea, or just a fifteen-minute wander in your local park. Immersing ourselves in nature, in whatever capacity, allows us to stop, reflect, remember what’s important and return to our busy lives just that little less flustered.

Article Series

Plastic Pollution: Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle?

by Jessica Forsyth

It is estimated that approximately five million tonnes of plastic are used in the UK each year. Unfortunately, this extraordinary reliance on plastic has resulted in it becoming a common contaminant of the soil, the ocean, and the atmosphere. There can be no doubt that plastic pollution is one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, but the question remains of how best to resolve it.

It is important to remember that the presence of plastic in the environment is not an inevitable by-product of its use, but a direct result of our irresponsible and unsustainable disposal of it. As a matter of fact, plastic itself has several environmental benefits. These include the impact it has on reducing food wastage by extending the shelf-life of fresh produce, as well as reducing CO2 emissions from the transportation of goods as a result of its lightweight properties.

Scientist Mark Miodownik argues that plastic is too valuable a material to replace. Rather than swapping in other materials, that if improperly disposed of will also cause problems, ‘the more valuable thing to do is to focus efforts on how to make the process of using plastic more sustainable’.

So how can we achieve this? Well, if you were to ask the average person how they thought they could help in the plastic pollution crisis, their answer would likely include the idea of improving their recycling habits.  But should this be the focus of our attention? Many of us will be familiar with the ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ slogan. It is referred to as the ‘waste hierarchy’ because it lists the solutions to waste management in order of their effectiveness.

Interestingly, you will notice that recycling comes last on the list. The UK is considered to be a successful recycling nation with 45.7% of household waste classed as recycled. However, the majority of this recycling does not take place in the UK and where exactly our waste ends up and whether it is ‘truly recycled’ is unclear. Shamefully, in 2017/18 a report found that Westminster Council sent 82% of all household waste, including that put into recycling bins, for incineration. So perhaps we should focus more on reducing our consumption and improving our reuse of plastic. 

people near building

A strategy that the scientists at the University of Portsmouth are focussing on is finding ways to reduce the demand to manufacture new plastic. They have engineered a super enzyme capable of breaking down plastic into its chemical building blocks from which new plastic can be made. In 2018, they discovered that an engineered version of an enzyme known as PETase was capable of breaking down plastic in a matter of days.

Since then, the scientists have discovered a similar enzyme known as MHETase that, when combined, creates a super-enzyme capable of degrading plastic six times faster than PETase alone. Both enzymes were found in a soil bacterium known as Ideonella sakaiensis. Fascinatingly, with so much plastic polluting the environment, it seems that these microbes have evolved ways of turning plastic into a source of energy. By exploiting this ‘naturally occurring plastic-degrading system’ scientists have found a new way of improving our ‘Reuse’ of plastic.

Finally, it is important to remember that manufacturing new plastic from fossil fuels is a relatively cheap process and if any means of recycling or reusing plastic is to compete with this, it needs to rival it in cost. The discovery of this super enzyme is an important step towards this as the increased speed of plastic breakdown translates to a significant reduction in the cost of the process and thus a big step towards its consideration for commercial use.  

green plant in clear glass vase

With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to a rise in single use plastic, the plastic pollution crisis is more evident than ever before. With the discovery of new ways to reuse or recycle plastic comes hope that we can begin to move towards a more circular economy ‘where everything has value and nothing is wasted’. Only then can we hope that we can continue to benefit from the use of plastic as a valuable material without it posing a threat to all life on earth.

Cafe Sci

Virtual Café Sci | PK Porthcurno | Paul Tyreman

Wednesday, 14th October 2020

Discussing the science and history associated with PK Porthcurno, formerly known as the Telegraph Museum.

About the talk

2020 was to be a year of great celebration at PK, being the 150th anniversary of the opening of the cable station, with many events planned at PK and the Minack and in Penzance. With Paul located in the Clore Learning Space at PK, we will begin with a brief look at significant events in these 150 years and a look at some of the basic science behind the Telegraph technology – perhaps with a demonstration without explanation to get everyone thinking.

Next we will find out how on Earth you go about finding a break in a cable that is hundreds of miles long and located on the sea bed. We will finish with a look at how the Internet is the same as the Telegraph the Victorians built – and the differences that allow the virtually instantaneous communication on which much of modern life relies.

There’s a lot more to Porthcurno beach than meets the eye.

About our speaker

Paul was a Science teacher in London and Cornwall for 26 years up to 2012. After a few years volunteering at PK Porthcurno (at the time simply called the Telegraph Museum), he became the Learning Facilitator in 2016, hosting school and other groups and running the monthly STEM Explorers sessions for 7 – 12 year olds – until Covid. He is currently working with his colleagues to see how these activities can be resumed.

Cafe Sci

Virtual Café Sci | Seaweed Aquaculture in South West of England

Wednesday, 30th September 2020

Dr. Carly Daniels and Dr. Katie Orchel will discuss the challenges facing seaweed aquaculture in the South West of England.

About the talk

Seaweed is a healthy, sustainable source of food with a large global market. The global seaweed industry is worth over $6 billion per annum (equivalent to approx. 12 million tonnes in volume), 85% of which is produced as food products for human consumption.

The algae cultivation industry is set for expansion in the UK, as the health and nutritional benefits of seaweed consumption become clear. Providing a sustainable source of protein, omega-3, iron, a range of vitamins and minerals and other key nutrients, seaweed is expected to play an important role in new diets, including the increased prominence of plant-based diets in reaction to new data on food-related carbon emissions.

Additionally, seaweed has many uses across different industries: the use of its bioactive compounds in cosmetics, nutraceuticals, bio-medicals and pharmaceuticals; as food additives and fertiliser in agriculture; and in the production of bioplastics, textiles and biofuels. These added uses and benefits make seaweed a prime candidate for sustainable product development.

Dr Carly Daniels (Department of Biosciences) and Dr Katie Orchel (Department of Geography) from the University of Exeter will discuss some of the technical and societal challenges that face development of the seaweed culture in the South West of England.

Cafe Sci

Virtual Café Sci | The Evolution of Sailing Dinghies | Reuben Thompson

Wednesday, 23rd September 2020

Reuben Thompson will be talking to us about how sailing dinghies have changed and evolved over the past few decades.

About the talk

What is a King George Jubilee Truss, and why was it banned for 15 years? How did a WW2 Bomber open sailing up to the masses? These are just part of the journey over the last 100 years as the sport of dinghy sailing has gone from a sedate pastime for wealthy gentlemen, to an exciting and accessible sport. How did we get here and where are we going next?

Whether you have a prior interest in sailing or not this talk aims to give an overview of the technological, material, and social developments that have influenced the evolution of sailing dinghies.

About our speaker: Reuben Thompson

I have had a lifelong interest in sailing and can usually be found somewhere near the water. After training at the Lyme Regis Boatbuilding Academy I worked for a number of years at Cockwells boatyard in Mylor, before completing an advanced apprenticeship in historic vessel restoration at the National Maritime Cornwall where I continue to work as their in house boatbuilder. In this capacity I care for the collection, keep the floating exhibits on the water and carry out restorations in the museums workshop gallery. Meanwhile I am studying towards a degree in naval architecture through Plymouth University.

Article Series

Ocean 3D – Improving the accessibility of Cornish communities with VR

by Jessica Forsyth

For some people, getting out and about to explore new places poses a challenge. This might be the result of a physical disability that makes it difficult to move around or of an anxiety disorder which can make visiting new places an unnerving experience. These are just a couple of examples of the barriers that can leave individuals feeling as if they are shut off from their community. To ensure this is not the case, we must find ways to increase the accessibility of our communities to those with additional needs.

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that has enormous potential to do just this and is something that the Cornwall based company Ocean 3D has been quick to recognise. Based in Penzance, they conduct 3D and interactive tours with the aim of ‘enabling people to visit, explore and enjoy locations that are difficult or impossible to access due to distance, income, physical or mental disabilities’.

Some of the locations mapped already include The Museum of Cornish Life, Penzance railway station and St Buryan Church, with plans for the near future including a scan of the Old Penlee lifeboat house and a project with the Tate St Ives. These tours are freely accessible via their website and are of an extremely high quality.

Speaking with the director of the company, Chris Wood, I was able to gain an insight into some of his goals for the future, one of which is to be able to create scans of entire villages with links to 3D tours of artist studios and village shops that can be viewed worldwide. We also spoke about the positive impact that the company had achieved through the creation and provision of these tours to members of the community.

One example that Chris provided was some feedback he had received from families that had utilised the tours for elderly relatives. For some who were bedbound this had allowed them to explore locations that they had fond memories of but could no longer manage to visit and for others, who suffered from dementia, it had had the power of triggering positive memories that were thought to have been lost.

More and more research is being conducted into the variety of benefits that VR can provide with studies ranging from exploring its use in combatting loneliness in the elderly to its use in exposure therapy for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Ultimately, the benefits of VR are unique to the individual but whatever capacity it is that these tours help in is an important step in improving the inclusivity of society and therefore a step in the right direction.

The emphasis that Ocean 3D has on using this technology to benefit those at a disadvantage is commendable and if you wish to find out more about their work please visit their website at https://www.ocean3d.co.uk/.

Cafe Sci

Saving ESTER – the native Cornish oyster

9th September 2020

Chris Ranger will be talking to us about preserving native oyster populations in Cornwall.

About the talk

85-95% of the world’s native oyster population has been lost due to overfishing, pollution & disease. The Fal Fishery has possibly the last remaining naturally reproducing wild stocks.

But poor management and exploitation means it is heading in the same direction as all other U.K. fisheries. They all collapsed. 17 worldwide restoration projects are planned.

But sourcing native oysters is a major limiting factor.

In this talk, Chris Ranger (pictured below), explains how he has a back up plan with a micro hatchery, spatting pond nurseries and aquaculture research site, just in case.

Useful links

Fal Oyster Ltd. website | www.faloyster.co.uk

Fal Oyster Newsletter | http://eepurl.com/gR7V_T

Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC | www.falfisherycoopcic.co.uk

Fal Fishery Cooperative CIC Newsletter | http://eepurl.com/gEUdj5

Saving the Oyster crowdfunder | https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/savingestertheoyster

Above: Oysters in a petri dish.

What is Café Sci?

A Café Sci typically consists of a short talk (around 20 minutes), followed by a Q&A /discussion which can last up to an hour. You are not obliged to stay for the full duration so if you’re pushed for time or just want to see the talk do please come along for the first half hour.