Discover geology with Lego!

Discover geology with Lego!

Science communication is becoming a widely recognized skill for both established and budding geoscientists alike. Outreach activities are beneficial in many ways, as they not only showcase science to the general public, but also give scientists the chance to develop transferable skills.

If you’re in the market for a creative geoscience activity, one that especially appeals to a younger audience, look no further! In this guest blog post, Stephanie Zihms, a geomechanics postdoc at Heriot-Watt University and the EGU Union-level ECS representative, details a fun hands-on activity that teaches geoscience with the help of Lego blocks. This post is modified from a version which first appeared on Stephanie Zihms’ blogRead the original post.

I designed this activity for the Explorathon 2015 (a family orientated science event) because I was looking for a way to show how geologists work from observing the surface to gathering information from boreholes and seismic surveys to understand the subsurface. I also wanted participants to experience this process without needing to be in the field or taking rock samples.

Kit and preparation

I used a generic brand of building bricks (because my budget didn’t allow for actual Lego) and bought two boxes of mixed bricks in a bargain store. First you want to sort the bricks by colour (unless you can buy them that way). Then you want to decide what shapes to make – I opted for three simples shapes: Syncline, Anticline and Oil Reservoir with seal.

With the geology built, you then want to select three or four areas to make a ‘borehole’ with – I used single bricks but this could be done with the 2×2 squares as well. If you have enough bricks you can probably incorporate the ‘boreholes’ into the model and reveal them by extracting them – which would be super cool. Once you have the models built and boreholes prepared, you need to make some envelopes to only expose the top layer – I used brown hacking paper and packing tape to make sure they can be reused easily. That’s pretty much it.

Activity: Syncline & Anticline       

Show your participants the covered models and ask if they can tell you what the rest of it looks like. You can explain that geologists use exposures like this for mapping (having maps on hand can be useful). Also ask how sure they are that they are correct based on the information available. You can then offer more information in form of boreholes – either lay or stand them in front of the model in the correct place (you can mark your envelopes) or extract them if you went for the hiding option.

Either ask the participants to show you what they can see – following a colour for example or ask them to copy the boreholes on a bit of paper and connect colours that way (this will depend on how much time you have with each participant; borehole papers can be prepared with the columns printed on so the participants only have to colour them in).

Once that is done reveal the full model. This is normally a big ‘Ahhh’ effect because just by having that little bit of extra information they got it right. This is a great opportunity to talk about information available and how geologists infer maps and what the subsurface looks like based on similar information. (if you have boreholes logs from the local area + the iGeology app from BGS this can really help relate this to the local area). If you make a version where the boreholes can be retrieved this could be standalone activity with instructions to follow as well.

Activity: Oil reservoir with seal         

This activity is very similar to the one above except that we can’t see anything from the top layer. And before we even know where to drill for a borehole we have to do a seismic survey. After guessing what the model looks like and deciding the information is not great. Show a generic seismic line (normally easily found online or in petroleum engineering tutorials). We printed seismic lines on A5 and asked participants to colour them in – following any features or structures they could see (this could also be done with one A3 paper that’s laminated and can be re-used).

After identifying a generic reservoir structure we revealed the model to show the different layers. A set of boreholes could be done based on where participants would ‘drill’. Which would mean having a set of boreholes available or making the middle of the model retrievable.


I absolutely love this activity because it uses something people are familiar with – independent of age and it mimics a little geological survey taking participants on the journey of gathering information and making an estimation. This activity can also be easily amended for different size audiences (e.g. using DUPLO for a show & tell type event) or adding more information about the process, talking about risk and uncertainty. The response from participants, especially children, when the model is revealed is priceless.

I hope you found this how-to useful and please share how you used it at your events either in the comments or by tagging me (@geomechsteph) on Twitter.

By Stephanie Zihms

A young participant’s experience at the 2018 General Assembly: So much to discover!

A young participant’s experience at the 2018 General Assembly: So much to discover!

Today we welcome probably one of the youngest participants who attended the 2018 General Assembly, Pariphat Promduangsri, a 16-year-old science baccalaureate student at Auguste Renoir high school in Cagnes-sur-mer, France, as our guest blogger. With a deep interest in the natural world and in taking care of the environment, Pariphat was a keen participant at the conference. She gave both oral and poster presentations in sessions on Geoscience Games and on Geoethics. She enjoyed particularly the sessions on education and geoscience.

The 2018 EGU conference in April was my first time attending the General Assembly; it was the biggest gathering that I have ever been to, and I think that I was most likely one of the youngest participants ever at the EGU General Assembly.  Last year, my sister, Pimnutcha, went to the 2017 General Assembly with our stepfather, David Crookall.  When she got home, she told me how exciting and interesting the conference was.  She also wrote a blog post for GeoLog about her experience.

This year, it was my chance to attend this conference.  However, the dates were still in the school term time, so I asked my high school teachers and director if they would let me be absent from school.  They agreed, and told me that it would be a great opportunity to learn many things.

My stepfather and I arrived in Vienna on the Saturday before the conference; it was not as cold as I thought it would be.  On Sunday, we went to a pre-conference workshop titled ‘Communicating your research to teachers, schools and the public – interactively’ organized by Eileen van der Flier-Keller and Chris King. It was very interesting.  They helped us to think more clearly about aspects of teaching geoscience and how pupils can learn more effectively.

So began an enriching and wonderful week.  We attended many oral and poster sessions.

During the conference, I had the opportunity to participate in two different sessions, giving two presentations in each – one oral and three poster presentations in all.

David and I doing the oral presentation (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

The first session that I attended was Games for geoscience (EOS17), convened by Christopher Skinner, Sam Illingworth and Rolf Hut.  Here I did one oral presentation and one ready-to-play poster.  This session was the very first one on the topic of geoscience games at the General Assembly, and I was lucky to be part of this momentous event.  Our oral presentation was called ‘Learning from geoscience games through debriefing’.  I did the introduction and some passages in the middle, with the rest done by David.  The main idea of our presentation was to emphasize how we may learn more effectively from games by debriefing properly; it is during the debriefing that the real learning starts. As David says, “the learning starts when the game stops”.

For our poster, ‘Global warming causes and consequences: A poster game+debriefing,’ people were invited to play our GWCC game.  We asked people to participate by drawing lines linking global warming to its causes and effects.  I had a great time talking with some dozen people who came to visit and play.

Left: David and I in front of the poster. Right: Explaining to Marie Piazza how to play the GWCC game. (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

The Geoscience Games Night was organized by the conveners of Games for Geoscience.  Many people brought games of all kinds to share and play, and even more people came to play.  The atmosphere was one of enjoyment, socializing and learning.  I played a game about the water cycle, based on the well-known board game Snakes and Ladders.  It was an exciting time.  At the end of the session, Sam Illingworth came to tell me that earlier in the day I did a great job for the oral presentation.  I felt really happy about his compliment.

Pictures of me playing games in the Geoscience Games Night session. (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

The second session was titled Geoethics: Ethical, social and cultural implications of geoscience knowledge, education, communication, research and practice (EOS4), convened by Silvia Peppoloni, Nic Bilham, Giuseppe Di Capua, Martin Bohle, and Eduardo Marone.  In this session, we presented two interactive posters.  One was called ‘Learning geoethics: A ready-to-play poster’.  This was a game where people are invited to work together in a small group.  The game is in five steps:

  1. Individuals are given a hand of 12 cards each representing an environmental value. Here are four examples of values cards:
    • Water (including waterways, seas) should have similar rights as humans, implying protection by law.
    • Water quality must be protected and guaranteed by all people living in the same watershed. Water polluters should be punished.
    • All people with community responsibility (politicians, mayors, directors, managers, etc) must pass tests for basic geosciences (esp climate science) and geoethics.
    • Families and schools have an ethical and legal obligation to promote respect for others, for the environment, for health, for well-being and for equitable prosperity.
  2. Individually, they then select six of the 12 cards based on importance, urgency, etc.;
  3. Then, in small groups of three participants, they discuss their individually-selected choices from step 2.  Collectively, they achieve consensus and choose only six cards for the group;
  4. The group then continues to reach a consensus in a rank ordering of the six cards;
  5. Debriefing about (a) the values and (b) the group process using consensus.


The second poster was titled ‘Geo-edu-ethics: Learning ethics for the Earth’.  In this interactive poster, we asked participants to contribute their ideas for geoethics in education, or as we call it, geo-edu-ethics.  We received excellent feedback from viewers and contributors to this poster.

Participants contributing their ideas to our poster. (Credit: Pariphat and David Crookall)

We must make geoethics a central part of education because it is crucial for future generations.  Indeed our Geo-edu-ethics poster stated, “we need people to learn, and grow up learning, about what is right and wrong in regard to each aspect of our personal earth citizen lives.  That needs nothing short of a recast in educational practice for all educational communities (schools, universities, ministries, NGOs) across the globe.  It is doable, but it is urgent”.

Also, we must all realize that “education is inconceivable without ethics.  Geo-education is impossible without geoethics… Geo-conferences (including the EGU) include ever greater numbers of sessions related to experiential learning.  Experiential learning is at the heart of much in the geo-sciences.  An already large number of simulation/games exist on a wide variety of topics in geoethics,” (extract from Learning Geoethics poster).

This explains why a conference like the General Assembly is so important.  We can learn from the enriching experience provided by the conference itself, and also learn about opportunities for experiences in the field.

During the week, I went to many different sessions; I met many new people, all of whom who were friendly and down-to-earth (so to speak!).  It was a pleasure to be part of the General Assembly and it is also a good opening to the professional world.  The EGU allowed me to discover many great things about several fields in the geosciences and about the Earth.  It was indeed an exciting time!

I would like to thank Silvia Peppoloni, Giuseppe Di Capua and their fellow co-conveners from the International Association for Promoting Geoethics and the Geological Society of London; I admire the work that they are doing.  I enjoyed the evening meal with everybody at the Augustinerkeller Bitzinger in the beautiful city night of Vienna.  I also wish to thank Christopher Skinner, Rolf Hut and Sam Illingworth, co-conveners of the Games for Geoscience session.  They gave a wonderful opportunity to be part of their sessions and to learn more.

I also thank my high school teachers for letting me be learn outside school and in a professional setting.

I hope to see more pupils at the EGU! Please join me on LinkedIn.

by Pariphat Promduangsri

Pariphat Promduangsri is a 16-year-old science baccalaureate student at Auguste Renoir high school in Cagnes-sur-mer, France. Her native country is Thailand. She has lived in France for over four years. She speaks English, French, Italian and Thai. When she is not studying or climbing mountains (she has already done most of the Tour du Mont Blanc), she likes playing the piano. Later she will probably persue a career taking care of the environment and the Earth.


Giving back to the city: First EGU Public Lecture at the General Assembly 2018 in Vienna

Giving back to the city: First EGU Public Lecture at the General Assembly 2018 in Vienna

The inaugural EGU Public Lecture, titled ‘After Paris: Are we getting the climate crisis under control?’, took place last April at the 2018 General Assembly in the Natural History Museum of Vienna.

In this first public lecture, Stefan Rahmstorf, a climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, took the audience on a fascinating journey through the climate system, discussed its impact around the world, and addressed whether the Paris Agreement will mitigate the risks of Earth’s changing climate. Claudia Volosciuk from the World Meteorological Organization reports on the lecture.

Our pale blue dot

Rahmstorf started by taking a look at the small and fragile planet Earth from space, explaining the ways in which Earth receives and radiates energy, including an animation showing the history of greenhouse gas emissions.

He then went into more detail, showing for example the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide and how its increase in the atmosphere is human-caused. The lecture covered multiple geoscientific disciplines and highlighted their connections to each other: from coral reefs to the cryosphere, the oceans to the atmosphere, and hurricanes to deserts.

Studying Earth’s climate

Stefan Rahmstorf explaining the ways in which Earth receives and radiates energy, and the impacts of the additional carbon dioxide that is emitted to the atmosphere. Credit: Hischam Momen / Natural History Museum of Vienna

The audience also gained insight into the various methods that geoscientists use to study different aspects and time scales of the Earth system.

For example, scientists estimate potential future climate outcomes, by employing climate models to analyse the Earth system’s response to different greenhouse gases emission rates, also known as climate scenarios.

To reconstruct Earth’s past climate, researchers have used natural archives (like ice cores or tree rings), and written records. These observations and reconstructions reveal that the hottest summer in Europe since 1500 took place in 2010, followed by 2003, 2002, 2006 and 2007. “I believe that you don’t need to ask a statistician if you want to know whether this is just chance, it’s clear that this is a systematic effect,”* emphasised Rahmstorf.

The Paris Agreement

Referring to the presentation’s title, Rahmstorf highlighted the great success of ratifying the Paris climate accord to limit global temperature rise to well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels, but he  argued that it came 20 years too late. If the agreement had been reached earlier, there would have been more time for countries to curb carbon emission rates and transition to a carbon-free economy, explained Rahmstorf.

He also cautioned that the agreement isn’t a perfect solution as it still implies a substantial warming. For instance, if we met the Paris agreement’s global temperature rise goal, Rahmstorf noted that the average temperature over land would be higher than the global average, as the oceans do not warm as strongly as land masses. Reaching the Paris agreement goals would still create conditions beyond what Earth has experienced for hundreds of thousands of years.

Rahmstorf suggested mechanisms that policy makers could adopt to increase the speed of emission reduction, which is not yet sufficient to reach the Paris agreement goals. These include establishing a minimum price to emit carbon dioxide and ending subsidies for fossil fuels, which are currently still higher than renewable energy subsidies.

He also warned that the longer we wait to decarbonise our economy, the faster we will have to reduce our emission levels in the future. “The famous climate scenarios are called scenarios and not forecasts,” Rahmstorf explained, “Humankind has the choice whether it wants to emit a lot or a little CO2.”*

EGU and Vienna

The General Assembly has been held in Vienna for more than a decade and the EGU has a very good relationship with the city, according to EGU President Jonathan Bamber. “We thought it is about time that we try an experiment and give something back to the city,” said Bamber, “to share with you our enthusiasm and excitement about the science we do.”

Stefan Rahmstorf (left), Jonathan Bamber (center), and Christian Koeberl (right) at the 2018 EGU Public Lecture. Credit: Hischam Momen / Natural History Museum of Vienna

The director general of the Natural History Museum of Vienna, Christian Koeberl, highly appreciated the Union’s decision to conduct the public lecture at the museum, as the institution has a variety of geoscientific activities, including preserving collections and carrying out research projects.

“Today’s topic is one that interests and affects us all, namely climate. Climate is obviously something that is strongly connected with our understanding of the Earth, but also with our interaction as humans with the Earth,”* Koeberl remarked. The event was at full capacity, attended by an audience spanning all age groups, suggesting that Koeberl’s sentiment was widely shared.

By Claudia Volosciuk, World Meteorological Organization

*Quotation is a translation from the German original