Saturday, 30 November 2013

Lectures, faeces and the media....

Today's blog title might conjure a rant on how lectures are not favourably received by the media, but this is far from the truth. This past week had me on my lectures, working with the media and being asked to comment upon published research on a prehistoric communal toilet!

The STFC event in Birmingham on the Public Engagement in Science went extremely well, seamlessly organised and delivered by the STFC team. The TeenTech event at the Olympic Park similarly went swimmingly, albeit in a vast basketball court. Over 600 kids came, saw and were hopefully inspired by a wonderful bunch of folks who give their time to promoting STEM subjects. The final talk I gave in London was at the Highgate School. Here I gave a lecture on the University of Manchester interdisciplinary approach to science. This was delivered to a very motivated science club...always splendid to see and hear.  No sooner had I finished the lecture and the very articulate Q&A session, I headed to the busy rush-hour street outside the school to await a mobile BBC Studio. I had already received three calls from the BBC Studio asking if the said van had worst the cellphone would have to be the final mode of interview. 

The interview had been arranged for 5:37pm….London rush hour traffic had been doing its best to delay the van, which arrived at 5:43pm. A splendidly organised BBC chap bundled me into the back of the van (which from the street-side must have looked a little odd!) and I found myself sat in a tardis-like recording studio. I was encouraged to immediately put on my headphones, only to hear a surprisingly calm BBC producer say that I would be live on air in a mere 30 seconds! Not much time to collect ones thoughts….the interview was a blur to be can hear the said Radio 4 PM Show on this link (44:30 minutes into the programme).

The topic of the interview was slightly I had been asked to comment on the recent publication on a possible communal 'toilet' used by a group of mammal-like reptiles (Dicynodonts) some 230 million years ago in Northern Argentina.  Anyone who listens to the interview might well hear my I tried to avoid 'forbidden' words at this early broadcast hour. It would have been easy for me to say, ‘Basically I’m talking c**p’ or ‘Communal c**pping critters coprophagicly conjure  a course communal khazi’….I could go on, but had better not!

As a final aside, my blog hit 100,000 views this week. Thank you for continuing to read my palaeontological 'droppings'...

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Reaching out with science....a busy week of particle physics, public engagement and dinosaurs!

Tomorrow I head down to Birmingham to set-up our 2012 Royal Society Summer Exhibition exhibit for a science outreach meeting hosted by the STFC at the University of Birmingham. This should be a fun day of meeting folks who equally value the publics engagement in science. Several members of the research team from Manchester will be taking part in this event and passing-on their knowledge and experience on what we have explored within the realms of public engagement.

On Tuesday, I head down to the SE of England to film with the BBC...I will tweet when this will be transmitted (later in the week on BBC1). The subject of the interview...again, that will have to wait.. is suitably-saurian.

On Wednesday we re-build the 2012 Chemical Ghosts exhibit, this time at the Olympic Park in London for a splendid TeenTech event. This is a GREAT organisation that I encourage schools to contact and take part in their events across the UK. This is a unique opportunity for kids to listen to talks and take part in events put on by both industry and science (from universities and companies alike).

On Thursday, time for a lecture at Highgate School in London where I hope to explain to the students how interdisciplinary science is changing the way we study the evolution, biology and history of life on Earth. A busy week ahead, but not too different from last week!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Auction...

The fate of the Duelling Dinosaurs has still to be decided. The Auction room was crowded, maybe too crowded. I was present at the auction to document the sale of the fossils for a documentary.  The international press sat alongside us, squeezed between fossils and bidders. This was my first auction...a strange experience to the uninitiated. As the auctioneer started the sale, I felt my eyes suddenly drawn to the floor, in slight fear that a simple smile or gesture might land me with an impossibly large bill from Bonham's. As each prehistoric lot appeared on the plasma screens, I found myself watching those bidding and not the fossil lots. Each person was there for their own reasons, some for the spectacle, others to acquire and many just to see the fate of the auctions namesake, the Duelling Dinosaurs.

International Media squash together to watch the auction at Bonham's...
The said auction lot came into play. Looking around the auction house, it was clear all eyes were now focussed upon the auctioneer. Within seconds the initial bid had gone from 5 to 5.5 million dollars...two people were bidding from the audience. Everyone was straining to see who had placed the bids, but no sooner had they been placed....silence. The auctioneer scanned the room, searching for a higher bid...and none came forth.

The reserve on the combative couple was not met. The saga of the Duelling Dinosaurs that began with their discovery in 2006 remains unresolved. Whether these fossils find a home in a museum, remains to be seen...I shall endeavour to follow the story of these remarkable fossils.

Auction Day for Dinosaurs...

The auction of the 'Duelling Dinosaurs' has raised many eyebrows in the world of palaeontology and beyond. Those who have come to see the remarkable fossils at Bonham's, which are still neatly parcelled in their plaster field-jackets,  cannot help but gawp at the complete nature of the predator and prey locked in immortal combat. It is clear why some major museums are seriously interested in the plucky pair of beasties, but their fate will be decided in a little over 4 hours...

The sarcophagus of sandstone that entombs the two dinosaurs also has the potential to reveal many secrets on the burial environments and preservation of these beautiful fossils. Who knows if a cadaver decay island seeped its chemical signature into the surrounding sediments, only to be set in stone for 66 million years. The fact that so much of the encasing sedimentary matrix is still attached to these dinosaurs is a good thing and something which any buyer will have to carefully explore and examine.

This powerful portrayal of a prehistoric battle between the hunter and the hunted will hopefully have a new home by close of play today. The palaeontological community are holding their breath...hoping for a public museum to step-in and acquire the fossil remains of two splendid Cretaceous combatants.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Dinosaur and the Gavel....

The auctioneers gavel will fall on Tuesday 19th November 2013 at Bonham's Auction House (New York City)...not an unusual occurrence for such an establishment, but this particular sale involves dinosaurs and other beasties from the fossil record. The sale of such fossils often generates debate among palaeontologists as to the ethics of such material being sold. The worry that fossils will disappear into private hands, never to be seen again by scientists, is a real concern. However, it is also a pity that dinosaurs seem to be the main focus of such debates, when there are so many other beautiful fossils that often find themselves in a similar predicament...but dinosaurs seem to attract the media attention, especially if the said beastie(s) is of the predatory persuasion.

Upside-down dinosaur...the head of this predator rests on the bridge of its nose!
I head to New York in the morning to follow science, media, public attention and ultimately the result of the said auction. Over the next few days I will no doubt hear views from many camps on the sale and acquisition of such remarkable fossils. My only hope is that the focus of this particular sale...the 'Duelling Dinosaurs'... are purchased by a public museum, so that one and all can gawp at this stunning fossil.

A relatively large arm, but huge hand defines this splendid predator.
Ultimately the fate of these splendid dinosaurs come down to a simple fiscal denominator...who has enough money on the day. Hopefully some kind-spirited folks are out there and are feeling generous towards their local or national museum...