Sunday, 10 October 2010
40 Years of Earth & Planetery Sciences at the OU
This week has seen a significant anniversary at the Open University. It is now forty years since the start of the Department of Earth Sciences at the Uni. The late Professor Ian Gass lead the way with the guiding principle that 'excellent research breeds excellent teaching'.
To celebrate this milestone, the department held a 2 day conference followed by an Open Day on Saturday 9th October, and I managed to make the short journey down to the campus in Milton Keynes on Saturday. There were lots of things going on - some activities to stop the kids getting too bored, such as panning for gold and making plaster casts of fossils and even 'dressing up as a scientist' and having your picture taken! Tempting, I have to say, but I resisted. I was there for the talks. Just to be sure I booked to hear all the listed speakers with one in particular who was simply a 'must see'. More of that later.
First up was Dr Mark Davies, an ex OU PhD student and now working for ARKeX, a geophysical survey company. His talk was an interesting look at geogravity and how gravity changes according to mass. He showed how techniques for measuring these variations are used to locate oil reserves. Interesting stuff, but not my thing really. Exploration geology is not really where my interest lies, though it might have been if I had studied geology back in the '80s as I'd originally planned.
Next up was meant to be Dr Phil Bland, another ex OU student, talking about the oriigin of meteorites in the solar system, but unfortunately he had been taken ill and couldn't attend. Rather than stay for the 'emergency stand-on, I decided to have an early lunch break.
Then we had Professor Monica Grady (pictured left) of the Open University, with a talk entitled 'Life on Mars - if not, why not'. Monica, it turns out was the author of part of Book 8 from the OU Science Foundation course S104, that I successfully completed last year! So this talk was a good recap on what I'd learnt
The next speaker, Professor John Zarnecki (right) proved a wonderfully engaging bloke. He ran through his whole working life in space exploration, having been associated with many of the major planetary exploration missions over the last few decades including the Cassini Huygens mission that studied the surface of Titan. Best of all was his hilarious account of his desperate and sadly for him unsuccessful attempts to get into space himself on the various European Space Agency missions - proudly displaying his rejection letter from ESA! Great stuff!