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Laura Roberts-Artal

Laura Roberts Artal is the Outreach and Dissemination Manager at The Water Innovation Hub (University of Sheffield). Laura also volunteers as the Associate Director of Communications for Geology for Global Development. She has also held a role in industry as Marketing Manager for PDS Ava (part of PDS Group). Laura was the Communications Officer at the European Geosciences Union from the summer of 2014 to the end of 2017. Laura is a geologist by training and holds a PhD in palaeomagnetism from the University of Liverpool. She tweets at @LauRob85.

Is it your duty to communicate your science?

Hello everyone!

Gosh! It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, I apologise! I am in the deepest, darkest hole that is called thesis writing. To make matters worse, the post today isn’t even my own! Having said that, it is a a fantastic guest post  by Ekbal Hussain. on why scientist SHOULD communicate the science that they do!


Ekbal’s main interest lies in natural hazards and he feels passionately about science communication and the importance of divulging our scientific knowledge to the wider public, particularly those at risk of natural hazards. He is currently undertaking his PhD in geodetic monitoring of strain accumulation along the North Anatolian Fault in Turkey. I highly recommend his blog, Climate and Geohazards hosted by Climate and Geohazard Services at Leeds University. Ekbal tweets at @ekh_rocksci.

In the post today Ekbal outlines why it scientist should communicate their science. I agree, we certainly do that on a regular basis by attending conferences and producing papers, but Ekbal argues we have a responsibility to make our research accessible to other, much wider, audiences. What is the best method for reaching those audiences? Undoubtedly face-to-face communication is paramount, but a a man after my own heart, Ekbal is a huge advocate for the use of social media, particularly twitter. I’ll finish with this, as Ekbal says, when it come to twitter: JUST DO IT!

After the really great discussions at the science communication splinter meeting at the EGU General Assembly on Monday, I felt inspired to write up some of my thoughts on why science communication is so important.

All scientists have a responsibility to communicate their science. To a large extent that is exactly what happens. We write scientific papers and present at conferences. These are all important forms of communication. However, I believe that we also need to communicate it to the non-scientists and the non-specialists.

Why? Well for multiple reasons: to inform and educate others particularly if the the scientific results could impact their lives, e.g. natural hazards and climate change, raise awareness of your field and the dynamic nature of science.

For me, a very important aspect of science communication is to inspire! You may one day become the world leader in your field but after you retire who will take over the mantle from you? We obviously love what we are doing, (yes yes, I know research has its ups and downs but we love the science really). So we have a responsibility to encourage, enthuse and empower the younger generation to get involved with the geosciences and equip them with similar communication skills so they can do the same.

We all have a responsibility to inspire, for without it the flame of discovery in our science will fizzle out and leave the world a much darker place. (That’s a really cheesy line, but I’m quite proud it …)

At the splinter meeting we discussed the importance of science communication via social media compared to face-to-face communication.

Undoubtedly both are very important and applicable in different settings. I am a great fan of face-to-face communication. Because you can directly share your love and passion for your subject. So be naturally appealing, be enthusiastic and energetic and use all the tools at your disposal. Be expressive with your hands, your face and your eyebrows because these all give social cues to the listener to become more engaged and attentive. There is nothing worse than an inattentive audience. Use your charisma to reel them in.

Face-to-face communication does not have to wait till you are in a classroom either. You can communicate science to your housemates, to your friends, on the train, to the person sitting next to you in the plane etc. Make Everywhere your playground and the World your audience!

In terms of digital communication…. just do it! Why? because you are helping to populate the internet with good, correct science. So when the concerned citizen wants to know about the risks of fracking in his/her neighbourhood and they Google ‘fracking risk’, make sure your blog is the first hit!

Maybe more importantly, you are doing it for yourself too. By writing blogs and tweeting you are developing skills in communication and dissemination of what is actually fairly complex knowledge. These are very valuable skills not only for an academic career but for a non-academic one too.

At the risk of waffling, I’ll end here and encourage you all to talk, write, be enthusiastic and engaging. Stop hoarding all that love for your science and let others experience it too!


Happy communicating!



P.s. Follow me on twitter: @ekh_rocksci

P.s.s. And check out my blog on climate and natural hazards:

Rocks of the Earth – EGU 2014

Credit: EGU2014

Credit: EGU2014

For the first time in 2014 the EGU General Assembly had a theme: The Face of the Earth. A number of special displays and talks were arranged to celebrate the first themed meeting.

Our very own Dan was heavily involved with one aspect of Face of the Earth; along with some colleagues, he manned the Rocks of the Earth stand at the conference center foyer.

No doubt a number of you donated rocks to be displayed throughout the Assembly and you may want to know a little more about the fate of your rocks. In this video, released by EGU, Dan explains the idea behind Rocks of the Earth and what happened to the rocks after the Assembly finished.


Credit: Laura Roberts. In this photo, Dan Schillereff and Jennifer Clear.

Credit: Laura Roberts.
In this photo, Dan Schillereff and Jennifer Clear.

EGU DIARIES: Days 4 & 5 (1st & 2nd April).

egu_logo_ga2014The last two days of the conference were packed with geomagnetism related sessions. I had to leave my blogging and Earth Scientist self behind and fully embrace the wide range of talks and posters directly relevant and important to my own research. I’ve decided to merge my last two diary entries; whilst a lot of the science was very interesting to myself, I appreciate that reading about the mathematical theory of the geomagnetic field doesn’t offer the light relief Dan and I seek to provide in the content of this blog! This post is packed with sediments, some thoughts on presenting my own research and volcanoes!

Sediments as recorders of the Earth’s Magnetic Field

Thursday was dominated by the session I was presenting in, EMRP3.2: Multi-faceted Palaeomagnetism and Rock Magnetism: A Tribute to Reidar Løvlie. The early morning oral sessions focused on how we can better understand how sediments record the signature of the magnetic field, which was the area of expertise of the late Løvlie. The mechanism by which the Earth’s magnetic field is recorded in sediments is called Detrial Remenant Magentisation (DRM for short): it results from the alignment of magnetic minerals (as they fall through the water column of a lake or marine environment), in the direction of geomagnetic field present at the time. The magnetisation is not fully acquired until the sediment has been compacted and consolidated. Subsequent disturbance of the sediment by bioturbation or realignment of magnetic particles in the pore space, can give rise to a post-depositional remanent magnetisation (PDRM). The oral presentations highlighted how critical it is to improve our understanding of factors such as having a good geochronological handle on the ages of the sediments and inclination shallowing to fully understand the process by which sediments record magnetisation.

How a DRM is acquired in sediments.  Source:

How a DRM is acquired in sediments.

Presenting my own research

I was surprisingly nervous when it came to presenting my own research during the poster session. There were a lot of experts in the field at the conference and I was feeling the pressure of exhibiting my research accurately and in detail. It helped that there were a few familiar faces that came to lend support and people who came to talk to me seemed genuinely interested and keen to learn more. I had a few discussions with people who challenged my way of thinking, but that was a hugely positive thing. It made me look at my work in a new light. Every scientist will tell you, you get so close that it is easy to loose perspective and sight of what the key questions are and how you might improve your own work, or that there may be a new avenue or direction ripe for exploration! Despite my initial nerves, I thought the session went well. I felt I communicated the key points I was trying to make in the poster to those whom I spoke to and I got some valuable suggestions of ways I could improve my work. Overall, a success!!!

Thanks to @iamhazelgibson for the photo :)!

Thanks to @iamhazelgibson for the photo :)!

A multidisciplinary approach

Rocks aren’t the only reliable recorders of the ancient signature of the Earth’s magnetic field. It turns out that archaeological materials that have been fired (say clay pots, building blocks used in the construction of ancient palaces, etc…) are excellent materials that we can use to study Earth’s magnetic field. My office mate and friend, Megan Thomas, explains the process involved in this excellent post.

Section of mural work on the Government Palace in Tlalpan depicting the eruption of the Xitle volcano. Source: WikiCommons. Author: Alejandro Linares Garcia

Section of mural work on the Government Palace in Tlalpan depicting the eruption of the Xitle volcano.
Source: WikiCommons. Author: Alejandro Linares Garcia

Much of the last day of the conference was taken up by sessions that covered archaeomagnetism and how it can be used not only to understand the geomagnetic field, but also resolve geological conundrums. For example, archaeomagentism was used to date the timing of the eruption of the Xitle Volcano in Mexico. Is Cuicuilco the Pompeii of Mesoamerica? Is the downfall of the civilisation at the ancient settlement a direct result of the eruption of Xitle Volcano? Radiocabon dating of wood fragments at the base of the lava flows suggest that the eruption is younger than the age at which the city is thought to have been abandoned. New results for the strength of the magnetic field (the field intensity), as obtained from the lava flows that burry the city; suggest that the lava flows are older than the published radio carbon dates. This conclusion results from comparison of the intensity results from the lava flows to the field models available. It turns out, Cuicuilco is the Pompeii of Mexico! (If you want to read about this research in more detail, take a look at Alva, EPS, 57, 839-853, 2005 for a review and the EGU 2014 conference abstract).

EGU DIARIES: Day Three (30th May).

egu_logo_ga2014After a busy start to the conference, I decided to take it easy on Wednesday. Whilst there was a range of really interesting sessions that caught my eye, I decided instead to dedicate some time to talking to people (I’ve got some really interesting 10 minute interviews coming up!). In the afternoon, I attended the Great Debate, Metals in our backyard: to mine or not to mine. As outreach is something that I am heavily involved in, I attended the short course in School Outreach: A practical Guide.

To mine or not to mine?

The debate was interesting as it touched on some of the key questions surrounding the on-going debate about the future sustainability of the mining industry. However, I must admit, it didn’t much feel like a debate. Unfortunately, despite the convener’s best efforts, it wasn’t possible to find someone who would sit on the panel and argue the case against mining and only two people in the audience openly admitted to be against it.  There were some key questions and points raised by the panel and the audience, many of which I tweeted about (#EGU14mine) on the day, and some of which I’ve highlighted below.

The main thing I took away from the debate was that mining sustainably is an issue that requires a huge deal of thought. I realise, I am stating the obvious, but I felt that during the debate the real issue was skirted around. The positive and negative impacts of mining seem relatively obvious, even to a non-expert like myself, but what I’d like to know is how the gap between the two is bridged?

  • Metals will not run out in the near future, the real issue is how much money is invested into the industry. We have a poor understanding of the amount of resources available due to a reduced handle on the global geology, particularly when it comes to subsurface outcrops.
  • Is the infrastructure and supply chain robust enough to support the future growth of the industry?
  • How much do we actually know about the environments we might want to explore in the future? This question was raised in relation to the exploration of the deep sea and future ventures in this area.
  • Mining in the deep sea requires technological and environmental assessments that are location specific as the impacts of the ventures will vary from site to site.
  • If done properly, the economic and social benefits to communities affected by mining can be large; it can lead to social empowerment, development of local infrastructure and health care. Equally, if the benefits of mining are not reaped by the local communities and country it can lead to violence and social instabilities. It is the responsibility if the mining industry and countries who engage in mining enterprises to establish contracts that will protect all stake holders and minimise conflict.
  • Available technologies and implementation of good practices can minimise the lasting impact of developing and exploring natural resources, paving the way for a sustainable future for the mining industry.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Author: TJBlackwell

Credit: Wikimedia Commons,
Author: TJBlackwell

For more detail on what went on on day three of EGU, and also on who the panelist were during the great debate, I highly recommend you take a look at Hazel Gibson’s post over on MyPatchworkPlanet.