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Connecting Earth scientists and school students – Apply to take part in I’m a Geoscientist!

What and when

Imagine a talent show where contestants get voted off depending on their skills in their area of choice. Then imagine that this talent show is populated by scientists with school students voting them off based on the scientist’s ability to communicate their research well. This is the basis of a recent EGU educational initiative that launched earlier in 2014, and that will return in 2015.

The EGU are continuing their collaboration with Gallomanor, the UK company in charge of I’m a Scientist (Get me out of here) and I’m an Engineer (Get me out of here), to run the European-wide sister project I’m a Geoscientist. The event provides school students with the opportunity to meet and interact with real (geo)scientists!I'm a geoscientist

The event takes the form of an online chat forum using an innovative online platform. School students log on and post questions to the scientists taking part, querying them on everything (with moderation) from their research to their favourite music. The scientists then log on and answer those questions. Based on their answers (e.g. on how well they’ve explained a particular piece of science), students get to vote out scientists until there is one left – the best scientific communicator – who wins €500 for a new public-engagement project of their choice.

The primary objective of the event is to change students’ attitudes to the geosciences and make them feel it’s something they can relate to and discuss in a rapidly changing world. Students have fun, but also get beyond stereotypes, learn about how science relates to real life, develop their thinking and discussion skills and make connections with real scientists. Giving students some real power (deciding where the prize money goes) also makes the event more real for them. The student who interacts the most with scientists and asks the most insightful questions will also win a €20 gift voucher.

I'm a geoscientistIIThe next I’m a Geoscientist event is taking place on 9–20 March 2015. If you’d like to apply as a teacher (giving your classes the opportunity to interact with geoscientists) or as a researcher, see the details below. The deadline for all applications is 26 January 2015, and GIFT teachers and EGU members are eligible to apply.

 

Teachers

To apply to take part in the event, go to http://imageoscientist.eu/teachers/ and fill in the simple online form for teachers. Applications are open to all teachers who have taken part in a GIFT event (at any time). Successful teachers will be notified shortly after the deadline for applications, and the event will take place over two weeks on 9–20 March 2015. You will need to use some class time before the event to prepare your students, but we have flexible lesson plans already prepared to help you keep the class time used to a minimum.

To take part you need to be able to devote at least 2 hours (it doesn’t matter when, and the maximum you will need is 5 hours) for those two weeks to ready your students for interacting with the scientists and take part in some online discussion – and of course you will have to have reliable internet access. The entire event will be conducted in English, so you and your class will also need a basic understanding of and ability to write questions to scientists in English. Why not team up with your school’s English department and use the event as a language learning exercise as well? If you choose to do this, make sure that the teacher who has been involved with GIFT in the past is the one who formally registers.

 

Scientists

For scientists, this is a unique opportunity to get involved with some public engagement from the comfort of your own home or lab computer, in your own time. You can build up your skills in talking about your research to varied audiences, tick the box for public engagement in your funding proposals, gain an understanding of how the public relate to research and, importantly, help inspire the next generation about the geosciences.

The potential of winning the €500 prize for further public engagement is also attractive. A public engagement activity could involve: buying equipment to allow a research oceanography vessel to communicate with school students during expeditions, funding an open day for communities living in a disaster area to find out about natural hazards research and get advice, giving the money to a school in Uganda to pay for science kits and a projector to watch science films on or buying a quadcopter to film inside the rim of a volcano and help school children understand their local natural environment. To find out more about the experience of participating as a scientist read the interview with 2014 winner Anna Rabitti.

To apply to take part in the event go to http://imageoscientist.eu/geoscientists/ and fill in the simple online form for scientists. Applications are open to all EGU members (if you are not a member you can register on the EGU website) from across Europe. Once applications close, we will ask the registered school classes to judge the scientist applications and chose the final 5 scientists who will get to take part in the final event. Successful scientists will be notified a couple of weeks after the deadline for applications.

To take part you need to be able to devote around an hour a day (it doesn’t matter when, but if you can devote more time that is always better) for those two weeks to answer the questions posed by the students – and of course you will have to have reliable internet access. The entire event will be conducted in English, so you will also need to be able to confidently understand and communicate in English.

If you have any other questions about the event, please contact Bárbara Ferreira at EGU (media@egu.eu, +49-89-2180-6703) or Gallomanor’s Angela Manasor (angela@gallomanor.com, and +44-1225-326892).

This blog post is based on materials by Jane Robb, former EGU Educational Fellow

 

Launching the new EGU Blogs!

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Screenshot of the new EGU Blogs webpage.

Welcome to the new home of the EGU Blogs! Today we are proudly launching a new webpage which now houses all the EGU blogs in one place. We have redesigned the website to give the blogs a more modern layout and have implemented a fully responsive page design. This means the new blogs website adapts to the visitor’s screen size and looks good on any device (smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops). In addition to the their new look, the Blogs have also been expanded to include news from some of the EGU scientific Divisions. In their new webpage you will continue to find your old favourites, including the Union’s official blog, GeoLog, as well as our established blog network.

As well as sharing information about the latest updates, events, and activities within the scientific Divisions of the EGU, the new Division blogs inform readers about the latest research being undertaken in each field. Currently six Divisions are represented in the EGU Blogs but expect more to join in the future. For now, look forward to reading about climate and cryospheric sciences, in addition to news from the Geodesy and Geomorphology Division. The former blog of the Seismology Division, Seismoblog, has been incorporated in to the Division Blogs. G-Soil, which previously had its home over with the network blogs is now known as Soil System Sciences Blog and now also forms part of the Division Blogs.

The network blogs put complex scientific research into context, sharing findings to a much wider audience. The research fields covered by the network bloggers span almost all aspects of the Earth Sciences from mineralogy, geochemistry, palaeontology, geoscience in global development, environmental geoscience, volcanology as well as atmospheric and Quaternary science.

From GeoLog you can continue to expect frequent information about the Union and its activities, particularly its General Assembly. The regular features include Imaggeo on Mondays, a weekly highlight of a photo from the EGU’s open-access image repository, Imaggeo; the Geosciences Column, which covers recent research in the Earth, planetary and space sciences, GeoTalk, a short Q&A with a geoscientist, and GeoEd, a series dedicated to education in the geosciences.

Despite extensive testing, as with any newly launched website, the new EGU Blogs page is bound to have some bugs and glitches. If you find any problems, please report them to the Science Communication Officer Laura Roberts. We thank  Robert Barsch for implementing the new website.

GeoTalk: Matthew Agius on how online communication can help identify earthquake impact

In this edition of GeoTalk, we’re talking to Matthew Agius, a seismologist from the University of Malta and the Young Scientist Representative for the EGU’s Seismology Division. Matthew gave an enlightening talk during the EGU General Assembly on how communication on online platforms such as Facebook can help scientists assess the effect of earthquakes. Here he shares his findings and what wonders online data can reveal…

Before we get going, can you tell us a little about you’re area of research and what got you interested in using online communications to complement our understanding of earthquakes and their impact?

My area of research is the study of tectonic structures and dynamics using different seismic techniques. The regions I have studied the most are Tibet and the Central Mediterranean. During my student days many friends wondered about my research and I felt that there was a need to reach out for the public in order to eliminate misconceptions on how the Earth works, in particular about the seismic activity close to home – Malta. This led to the creation of a website with daily updates on the seismic activity in the Mediterranean. We set up an online questionnaire for people to report earthquake-related shaking. The questionnaire proved to be successful; hundreds of entries have been submitted following a number of earthquakes. This large dataset has valuable information because it gives an insight on the demographics in relation to earthquake hazard of the tiny nation.

How can social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter be used to assess the impact of earthquakes?

Nowadays the general public has access to smart phones connected to the internet, which have become readily available and affordable. This resulted in a rapid use of social websites. People increasingly tend to express themselves in ‘near’ real-time online. Furthermore, smartphones are equipped with various technologies such as a GPS receiver and an accelerometer – the basic set up of a seismic station – and also a camera. Altogether this has the potential to provide an unprecedented level of information about the local experience of an earthquake. Its immediate analysis can also supplement instrument-based estimates of early earthquake location and magnitude.

Out in the field – Matthew Aguis in the Grand Canyon. (Credit: Matthew Aguis)

Out in the field – Matthew Agius in the Grand Canyon. (Credit: Matthew Agius)

What sort of information can you gather from sites like Facebook or Twitter, and what can it tell you?

Users can post comments as well as photographs directly on a page, say a page dedicated to earthquakes. Such post are time stamped and can also have geolocation information. Although the posted information might seem too basic, the collective data from many users can be used to establish the local feeling in ‘real time’. Another way is to have a specific application that analyses the text expressed by social media users. Similar applications have already been considered in a number of regions such as USA and Italy, and have shown very interesting social sentiment expressed during and after an earthquake shake.

How do the earthquake sentiments relate to the geology? Can you see any patterns between what people say and share online and the intensity of the quake in a particular area?

This is a new area of research that is still being investigated. Earthquake intensity, shaking and damage in a local context, are known to vary from one place to another. These variations are primarily due to either the underlying geology, the seismic wave propagation complexities, or a combination of both. So far various mathematical models have been published for famous areas such as San Francisco Bay; soon scientists will have the opportunity to compare their models with information on people’s sentiment gathered in this new way. Such sentiment is expected to relate to the geology, to some extent.

And another shot of Matthew in the field – this time from Mount Etna. (Credit: Matthew Aguis)

And another shot of Matthew in the field – this time from Mount Etna. (Credit: Matthew Agius)

What are the difficulties of dealing with this sort of data, and how do you overcome them?

This type of data compilation is known as crowdsourcing. Although it is has powerful leads, one has to take careful measures on how to interpret the data. For example one must not assume that everyone has a public social profile on the internet where to posts his/her sentiment. One also has to consider that mobile phone coverage is sometimes limited to cities leaving out large, less inhabited areas without a network. Another limitation can be related to the list of specific keywords used during text analysis, a typical keyword could be ‘shake'; users might be using this term in a completely different context instead of when the ground is shaking! I think the best way to overcome such difficulties is to combine this data with current seismic monitoring systems; upon which an event is verified with the seismic data from across the investigated region.

During your talk you proposed other ideas for data analysis, how can it be used to support civil protection services and inform the public?

Until now social sentiment with regards to earthquakes has been studied through the use of Twitter or Facebook. But citizens are also making use of other online platforms such as news portals. All this information should ideally be retrieved and analysed in order to understand the earthquake sentiment of an area better. Furthermore, such studies must also be able to gather the sentiment in multiple languages and establish geolocation information from clues in the user’s text. I think it is time to implement a system to be used by civil protection services, whereby immediately after an earthquake has been established, an automatic alert is sent via a dedicated phone app and, at the same time, a web bot crawls the web to ‘read’ and analyse what people are expressing across multiple platforms. A felt map can then be generated in real time. This could be very useful for  civil protection services during a major disaster, helping them to redirect their salvage efforts as civilian phone calls become clogged.

Matthew also mans Seismoblog, a blog dedicated to the young seismologists of the European Geosciences Union – keep up with the latest seismology news and research on Seismoblog here.

GeoEd: Announcing the winner of I’m a Geoscientist!

The last two weeks have been action-packed, with ten schools from seven countries heading online to ask five fabulous geoscientists questions about anything from how the Earth works to what it’s like to be a scientist in the first ever I’m a Geoscientist, Get me out of here! competition.

Find out more about the event at http://imageoscientist.eu.

Find out more about the event at imageoscientist.eu.

The aim of this thrilling fortnight was to let school kids interact with real geoscientists and challenge their knowledge in a competition to find out who was the best geoscience communicator. The scientists (from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Malta and the USA) fielded questions on earthquakes, climate, floods and more to share their science and win the favour of students taking part. And in the last few days they narrowed their favourites down to a final two, who battled it out on Friday for the champion’s title.

After almost 150 questions and over 450 answers we had a winner! Congratulations to Anna Rabitti, an Italian oceanographer working at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ)! In a post on imageoscientist.eu she explains how the Earth and space sciences can inspire great curiosity, whatever your background: “our Earth still has the power to amaze and question each and every one of us, from young students to geology professors.”

Anna at sea on RV Pelagia – the rocks were collected some 2300 metres below the surface, not far from the Atlantic’s Rainbow hydrothermal vent field (Credit: Roald van der Heide)

Anna at sea on RV Pelagia – the rocks were collected some 2300 metres below the surface, not far from the Atlantic’s Rainbow hydrothermal vent field (Credit: Roald van der Heide)

Anna will be awarded 500 euros to use on science outreach. She hopes to spend it improving the way scientific data is shared on the public ferry that doubles as a research boat and connects the island of Texel in northern Holland with the mainland. The data collected by the boat (ocean temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and more) is currently displayed on big screens for all passengers to see, but Anna hopes to set up something more interactive to inspire the next generation of geoscientists. In Anna’s words, “There are many ways to be a scientist, if you wish you can find your own.”

By Sara Mynott, EGU Communications Officer

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