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Cafe Sci

The Battle that saved Cornwall

Wednesday, 2nd June at 5:30 pm.

John Fletcher will be discussing the Battle of Hehil and the emergence of the Early Medieval Cornish State.


		Virtual Café Sci | The Battle that Saved Cornwall image

About the talk

During the Summer of 722 the invading army of Saxon Wessex was met by a force of Native Britons at a place called Hehil. Despite a string of earlier victories this time the Saxons were defeated and forced into retreat, marking the start of a century of prolonged conflict that would serve to protect and preserve not only the Kingdom of Kernow but also the unique culture, language, and heritage of the Cornish.

This talk will aim to put the battle in its proper context by looking at the wider period and events, while also touching on the factors that have kept it, and other aspects of Early Medieval Cornwall, relatively unknown.


		Virtual Café Sci | The Battle that Saved Cornwall image

About our speaker – John Fletcher

John Fletcher has spent sixteen years recreating the life, crafts and combat of Early Medieval Britain as a reenactor. For much of that time his focus has been on the history of Cornwall and the South West after moving to the region in 2006 to attend the University of Plymouth and remaining there ever since. He is the chairman of the Hehil 1300 Committee who are seeking to put on a Festival of Cornish Heritage to commemorate 1300 years since the eponymous Battle.

Not a trained historian, John has a BSc in Environmental Sciences and completed his dissertation studying Climate Change on Early Medieval Dartmoor.


		Virtual Café Sci | The Battle that Saved Cornwall image
Cafe Sci

Automated Astrophotography, an Introduction

Fred Deakin will be introducing us to the world of modern astrophotography and how it works.


		Virtual Café Sci | Automated Astrophotography, an Introduction image

About the talk

Astrophotography used to mean spending hours outside in the dark and cold to get an image of one of the many targets above us. Now-a-days, with most astrophotographers needing their sleep for their work the next day, or not wanting to spend hours in the shivering cold, automation tools especially in the advance of software has meant they can stay in the warm and just let the telescopes do all the work automatically. It is since the introduction of this type of image capturing that the hobby has boomed in popularity and more and more very deep and incredibly long image runs can take place. It is not uncommon for astro-images to now be made of 20 or 40 hours of exposures, bringing unparalleled detail and beauty to the hands of amateurs. This introduction will show the types of tools needed, the methods used, and the philosophy behind bringing the heavens much closer.


		Virtual Café Sci | Automated Astrophotography, an Introduction image

About our speaker – Fred Deakin

Fred is a design engineer and has run his own company for the past seventeen years, designing and manufacturing machines to clean up our waterways. Prior to that Fred worked for the Medical Research Council in Oxford for many years. Cornwall was Fred’s real home though and he decided to return and change profession so he could be back in the place he’s always loved. Fred has always been interested in the night sky, and even as a teenager would be out on clear nights looking up at the night sky to see what he could find. In 2008 he had an industrial accident and the subsequent medication had the side-effect of reducing his eyesight enough that looking through an eyepiece was not the same. He decided to try his hand at astrophotography, and as they say the rest is history.

You can see more of Fred’s work on his Facebook page by clicking this link.

Cafe Sci

Social smarts: how jackdaws use each other to learn

Josh Arbon will be discussing how jackdaws cooperate and learn from one another and the wider implications of the research.


		Virtual Café Sci | Social smarts: how jackdaws use each other to learn image

About the talk

How does being scared help birds thrive in new environments? Want to know what remote controlled bird feeders can tell us about cooperation and the evolution of intelligence? How can eating cheese in Cornwall help save a species in Hawaii?


		Virtual Café Sci | Social smarts: how jackdaws use each other to learn image

About our speaker – Josh Arbon

Josh Arbon is a PhD student at the University of Exeter who studies the social cognition of jackdaws, a member of the crow family. Using study sites in the local area, Josh investigates how birds navigate their social and physical landscape as well as how they learn new information about each other and their environment. In his talk, Josh will reveal how the work of the Cornish Jackdaw Project has shed light on these issues and aims to further our understanding of how animals interact with the world around them.


		Virtual Café Sci | Social smarts: how jackdaws use each other to learn image
Article Series

The Cornwall Geothermal Rum Distillery: a valuable asset or cause for conflict?

by Jessica Forsyth

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

When you think of Cornwall and rum, your initial thoughts may be of the county’s notorious smuggling history.  Indeed, in the 18th and 19th century, Cornwall was a centre for smuggling of goods such a tea, tobacco and of course, rum. There are many stories, including the famous novel ‘Jamaica Inn’ by Daphne du Maurier, that tell the tale of wreckers who would entice ships to the coastline before looting them when they inevitably ran aground on the rocky shores.

But what if instead, your first thought was of a pioneering project that harnessed renewable geothermal energy to mature and distill rum right here in Cornwall? Well, this is the hope of the Cornish Geothermal Distillery Company (CGDC) who have ambitious plans to create the UK’s first geothermal run maturation facility and distillery on land in Redruth, Cornwall.  

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

About the Project

The United Downs Deep Geothermal Power Project (UDDGP) is the first geothermal power plant in the UK. It aims to utilise the hot granite rocks below the United Downs Industrial Site to generate power and heat.  The CGDC’s plan is to make a direct connection to the power plants waste heat output and boost it to run heat intensive distillery processes. To do this they aim to use an innovative high temperature heat pump that they are developing alongside global engineering consultancy, Buro Happold. This would go a long way to making it one of the most sustainable and carbon-neutral distillery projects in the UK.

The CGDC’s efforts to prioritise and champion sustainability has been recognised through their receipt of the largest single award from the UK Government’s Green Distilleries Competition which aims to fund the development of technologies that enable distilleries to use low carbon fuel.  These awards form part of the governments commitment to “building back greener” from the Covid-19 pandemic. Clean Growth Minister Kwasi Kwarteng believes that these awards will allow “UK distilleries to lead the way…in the green industrial revolution…while also creating jobs”.

However, despite this support from the UK government, and the project’s potential for providing “much-needed investment and quality full-time jobs…in this part of Cornwall”“much-needed investment and quality full-time jobs utilizing local skills and businesses in this part of Cornwall”, the original project’s progress through planning has come to a standstill due to a conflict arising from the land on which the rum maturation facility’s designs were initially drawn up.

Concern over the site

In the 18th century, this area of land at United Downs was used for mining and forms part of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site. UNESCO and Historic England have expressed a great deal of concern regarding the potential environmental impact of the project and claim that it ‘risks damaging one of Cornwall’s prized natural landscapes’. Although they have expressed their support for the economic and employment benefits that the project aims to provide for the local area, they wish for an alternative location for its construction to be found.

CGDC’s concept requires proximity to the geothermal power plant and in their Design and Access Statement for the original plan they argue that the ‘development has the potential to offer long-term security for the site and its mining heritage’ and claim that they are committed to provide funding to contribute towards ‘restoration of the mining heritage on and around the site boundary’ as well as ‘offering World Heritage and Cornish mining related literature’ in the Visitor Centre. In spite of CGDC’s promise to spend £2 million decontaminating the site and restoring heritage features that have been heavily eroded, Historic England and UNESCO’s intervention means the original project’s future is now uncertain.

The conflict over the use of this site also comes from the current leaseholders, Purple Cornwall Ltd, also known as Autospeed, who currently use the site for stock racing. According to a statement by Cornwall council ‘Purple Cornwall’s lease with the Council to operate their stock car racing business on Cornwall owned land at United Downs runs until October 2021.’ Autospeed fear that with alternative sites for the racetrack yet to be found, the council’s plans to look for ‘low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’, such as the distillery, may signify the end of stock racing in Cornwall for good. Calls to save the motor sport venue are being made by The Save United Downs Raceway Action Group and have been backed by former Renault Formula 1 racing driver Derek Warwick.

The concern shown by UNESCO/Historic England for the protection of this world heritage site from degradation caused by the construction of the distillery is somewhat confusing when considering its current use. Undoubtedly over the 50 years during which the site has been used as a racetrack, it will have suffered from erosion and continuing to use the site in this way would seem to conflict with the aim of preserving the heritage of the Cornwall Mining Landscape.

Cornwall council have said that ‘In preparation for when the lease expires in 2021, the Council is looking at low carbon and sustainable alternative uses for the site’ that ‘contribute to economic growth’ and provide ‘job opportunities in the area’. It seems, regardless of whether the distillery plans go ahead on this site or not, the racetrack has a small chance of being able to continue to exist at this site, but, with the support of the Council, will hopefully be able to relocate and continue to provide ‘a safe, controlled environment’ for ‘followers of racing, and for families who are looking for that great day out with a difference’ to enjoy.

Looking ahead

CGDC’s determination to safeguard their green, job-creating, sustainable project has seen them submit a new outline planning application for a much smaller research and development proposal. This project would be built on the hard edge of the former United Downs landfill site – a brownfield site that currently has no designation and is situated directly next to the Geothermal Energy Plant. The “Celsius – Sustainable Distillery Research Centre” will make use of the aforementioned high temperature heat pump to operate a copper still for distilling rum and a small facility to mature rum in casks. This Celsius Centre is a separate scheme from CGDC’s pioneering Rum Cask Maturation Facility and would have no biome or visitor centre, no public access and would create 6 full-time jobs. Its true value lies in its focus on the development of green technologies that will not only enable the distillery ‘industry to make vast improvements in energy efficiency’ but will also allow other ‘enterprises to use waste heat from other industrial processes too’.

The research conducted at this Centre and the technologies developed would undoubtedly act as important foundations for the shift to a green economy post pandemic and would contribute to increased focus on sustainability ‘in the distillery sector and beyond’. In a time when Cornwall Council has declared a climate emergency, surely supporting the development of a project that is committed to the creation of green jobs and ‘revolutionising sustainability’ should be part of the action plan to achieve a cleaner and greener Cornwall.

Image credit: Grimshaw Architects

To keep up with project developments please go to www.geothermaldistillery.com.  

Cafe Sci

Snowball Earth Life: Ice creatures of the deep past

Jaz Millar will explore how life survived approximately 100 million years of ice and show us why scientists travel to the poles today to understand the past.


		Virtual Café Sci | Snowball Earth Life: Ice creatures of the deep past image

About the talk

From 720-635 milion years ago the planet was completely frozen in ice from the poles to the equator. Not only did the microorganisms that live there survive these harsh conditions they somehow thrived and diversified, as the first ever animals appear in the following period. In this talk we’ll explore how life survived approximately 100 million years of ice and show you why scientists travel to the poles today to understand the past.


		Virtual Café Sci | Snowball Earth Life: Ice creatures of the deep past image

About our speaker – Jaz Millar

Jaz Millar is a molecular- and micro-biologist with a background in extremophiles – organisms that thrive under extreme conditions. Their work is at the intersection of environmental science and biology, and involves everything from DNA analysis to climbing glaciers. They’re currently working towards their PhD at Cardiff University and The Natural History Museum London.


		Virtual Café Sci | Snowball Earth Life: Ice creatures of the deep past image
Cafe Sci

The Science Soap Box: February 2021

This event took place on the 24th February 2021, 5:30pm. See below for a short summary of our discussions.

We started talking about the gut microbiome, and how it impacts many aspects of our life.
We finished with a completely different topic – the recent Mars rover landing and the worth of space exploration.

Join us for another Science Soapbox where you can join the discussion about the science that is important to you.

Do you have a topic you would like to discuss at The Science Soapbox? We have one example lined up:

Ground-breaking new research on the genetics of the human gut biome suggests powerful new insights on diet, health, and environments.

We could be discussing this new research, exploring the science behind the headline conclusions; and the further questions it raises about DNA, science, health and society.

But what about YOU?


		The Science Soap Box image

Introducing The Science Soap Box

What science-related story has caught your eye over the past year?

What seems to you really important?

This week, instead of Virtual Cafe Sci, we are opening up this space to all you, our audience, to have your say on any science-related item that you’ve found especially interesting, whether in the news, in the journals, or on the web.

You can tell us briefly, in the chat box, what you found; and why you think it matters; and we will then give you time on screen to make the case for why we should all be interested too.

After that, as with all our evenings, we will open the discussion to everyone else, to comment or ask questions – and so you may get the chance to expand and say more.


		The Science Soap Box image
Article Series

Combining Art with Science: a new Cornish museum?

by Jessica Forsyth

On a sunny day in Cornwall there are plenty of activities to enjoy outdoors, whether it be a long walk along the coastal path or a refreshing dip in the sea. But on a day where the weather is not so pleasant, there is a lack of indoor activities to turn to, particularly for those with young and inquisitive children.

Discovering 42 are a community interest company that have recognised this and believe that Cornwall would benefit greatly from the opening of a museum that combines art with science and sustainability.

They are currently raising funds via their Crowdfunder page with the aim of setting up a pilot exhibition for a period of 6 months. During this time, they hope that high footfall will prove that there is a keen interest and desire for this type of attraction and hope to go on to make it a permanent fixture for the region to enjoy.

On their website, Discovering 42 state that they ‘want to challenge the misconceptions that art is frivolous and science is perplexing’. In other words, they wish to demonstrate that art can be an extremely effective and captivating method of conveying important messages. In this particular instance, they aim to use the skill and talent of local Cornish artists to create exhibits that will be, where possible, crafted using recycled or waste materials. They wish to show that when you combine art with science, you are able to engage people on issues they might not have otherwise shown an interest in, in a much more effective way.

Indeed, some of the most memorable pieces of artworks I have seen are where an artist has used their skill and talent to convey a message of importance, typically a message related to an environmental issue or issue of sustainability. One such example is a piece of art known as “Skyscraper” which is a sculpture of a whale made of over five tons of plastic that was found in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean. This sculpture was designed by architects and designers from STUDIOKCA and has been toured around the word. 

I think there is much to be said for the pairing of art and science. Looking back in history, art has long been used as a method for documenting scientific discoveries or progression. An example of this is of Marianne North’s paintings of tropical plants. In her 40’s, Marianne decided she would travel the world and document the worlds flora through paintings. She was an acquaintance of Charles Darwin, who is said to have considered her paintings as excellent examples of his theory of natural selection. Her paintings can be seen to provide a visual accompaniment that aid the understanding of the writings of Darwin, once again demonstrating the benefits that can result from the coupling of art with science.

Cornwall is undoubtedly  ‘a region with creativity at its heart’ and has provided the world with exceptional engineers, scientists and artists. Having a museum where this can be celebrated and recognised would be a great asset to the region and contribute to achieving progress on the CSC’s key ambition of increasing the number of people who are actively engaged and involved with science in Cornwall.

Of course, Cornwall has many other museums to offer that showcase various cultural and historical aspects of the region, such as its maritime links and mining history, that are all worth a visit. In fact, the CSC is currently working closely with the Cornwall Museums Partnership to find a way to support the virtual showcasing of such attractions. So, if you’re interested in finding out more about some of the interesting museums that Cornwall has to offer, do keep your eyes peeled for more information in the coming months!

Cafe Sci

Virtual Café Sci | The Science behind Forest Bathing | Paul Simmons

Wednesday, 20th January 2021

Paul Simmons will be discussing 40 years of research into the Japanese forest therapy of shirin-yoku or forest bathing.

About the talk

The talk is about the results of 40 years research into the Japanese forest therapy of shinrin-yoku or forest bathing and why it is so important for our psychological and physiological well-being with an almost universal acceptance of the need to reconnect to nature.

About our speaker – Paul Simmons

Paul Simmons has an MA in Cornish Studies and is embarking on a PhD about utilizing the Rights of Way network to help mitigate the effects of the climate and ecological emergency in a low carbon economy.

He has had a walking company for the past 20 years and is a practitioner of shinrin-yoku.

Arts Well

We are running this joint event with Arts Well. They play an important role for championing the arts and creativity in promoting health and wellbeing.

You can find out more about Arts Well here.

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.