Where do you begin to understand the mysteries of the earth’s oceans when even your feet are floating in water? It must feel at times an overwhelming task since marine life and ecosystems, ocean circulation, plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor, as well as the chemical and physical properties of seawater are complex, inter-related and ever changing. When currents of change also run through oceans due to climate change, pollution, fishing, mining and transport, how will you accomplish robust longitudinal observations? Where do you find your firm place to stand in order to move the world?
All Over Red Rover
Physical Sciences: Geodesy
Imagine gathering the finance and people needed to sling a rocket 483 million kilometres through deep space, hoping to land on Mars. Trajectory errors are inconceivable at your end because they could lead to Rover missing Mars completely. How many times will you check and check again your calculations? Will storms, solar flares, meteorites and computer glitches threaten Rover on its journey? Will it endure its rapid entry and descend safely through the Martian atmosphere at about 19,000 kilometres per hour? Only by extraordinary technology, concentration and luck, does your Rover finally fulfil its potential on land. Whilst you would like Rover to roam all over, finding rocks and soils or perhaps water, will it all be over in less than 50 kilometres?
Between Heaven and Earth
Life Sciences: Botany
Imagine dangling from a rope slightly above a tropical canopy. The air is heavy with moisture, and your clothing clings in the heat. The foliage of vines and trees is thrusting upwards to the light. You have just spotted a flower that blooms only once in 100 years. You have never seen it before but you know it from books and journals. Your assistant shouts up to you from the gloom below. Her voice sends birds panicking out of the treetops. Their brilliant feathered flashes and squawks startle you, threatening to topple your laptop. The sweat rolls, the insects bite, the birds fly, the rope descends into gloom and an irritable assistant needs help as your stunning find is just within reach overhead… Will you choose to reach above or descend to Earth?
Earth Sciences: Palaeontology
How can you study traces of ancient life when they are encased in solid rock? How many gaps in the fossil record do you fill by artificially accelerating natural erosion? How can you justify breaking the foundation of early life especially when it has enabled your own theories to emerge? Will one more fossil, saved from metamorphosis, transform the daily existence and understanding of all humans on earth? When protective resistant geology gets in the way of describing past life, biochemistry, mathematics and engineering offer the determined paleontologist alternatives to picks and sledgehammers but perhaps not to ethical questions…
Cradle to Grave
Earth Sciences: Potamology
Where does this river flow? Does it flow to the sea, another river or to an inland lake? For how long will it flow after rain breaks its banks? At its furthest margins, will the river dry up before reaching another water body? Can you imagine meeting the source, or standing at the furthest end of the furthest tributary? Can you imagine your toes meeting these insignificant trickles without ever knowing the full length of beds and banks and the power of fresh flowing water on the ground?
Earth Sciences: Mineralogy
Like so many characters in human society, offering essential and enriching components, and also destructive potential, rocks and minerals pop out from professional and amateur collections around the world. Density, hardness, tenacity, cleavage, fracture, parting, luster, colour, streak, luminescence, diaphaneity, magnetism, electrical conductivity, radioactivity, solubility in acid: what can be known in the palm of your hand without microscopes, x-rays or vacuums? Did you know that about 100 new minerals are discovered and named each year? Will you ever find yourself looking through the glass at your achievement… or perhaps the mystery that has evaded you for your whole working life?
Life Sciences: Genetics
Imagine being part of the international research effort to sequence and map all human genes- the Human Genome Project that was begun in 1990 and completed in 2003. The Project revealed approximately 20,500 genes and their locations. Imagine having estimated the number of genes to be over 100,000 and learning there were significantly less. What now with this extremely large data set? How will you wrangle the ethical, legal and social implications of this big genetic data? Do you offer your own cheek to be scientifically swabbed? What of the cheeks of your children?
Life Sciences: Mycology
Where on earth did you find such enormous fungi? Have these fungi been specially bred to confer some benefit to humans- such as creating new cancer and obesity therapies? Or are these undiscovered mega-fungi thriving on an anthropocene food supply? Once you know these answers, imagine harvesting and bringing them back to your laboratory. Are the compounds in these fungi toxic or beneficial? Where in the human body do the compounds work at the cell, organ and animal level? Will you use other animals to answer this potent question?
Physical Sciences: Astronomy
Deep underground, isolated from cosmic rays and other background radiation, a pristine neutrino detector offers an astronomer the opportunity to find an elusive ‘flavour’- electron, muon and tau, which he first encountered in utero and which has eluded him for decades. Every day above ground, the sun emits billions of neutrinos and they pass through his body- between the atoms in his flesh and bones and everything around him. Ejected by violent astronomical events in distant galaxies they linger on earth, transferring energy, penetrating dreams and teasing intellects. A quick flash of light is all there is to mark their existence. Will he be equipped with enough sensitivity?
Home Sweet Lab
Physical Sciences: Chemistry
When you are not at work stirring chemicals, studying composition, structure, properties and interactions, plying reagents and catalysts, where does your mind go? What entropies on the shelf as you energize with your hands? Do you, like the alchemists of old, seek to turn a common subject into figurative ‘gold’? What happens when art and science are cast together? Will they be exalted to a dynamic equilibrium or will they stubbornly remain in static lone pairs?
Physical Sciences: Robotics
Can you imagine a day where someone suggests that robots would be a good alternative to humans for mechanical tasks in busy hospital nurseries? Don’t robots work day and night without meal or fail? How far would you let machines move, space and rock cots as if they were plant pots, and perhaps even monitor restless infant movements? Are you comfortable trusting advanced machines to more complex tasks for fragile bodies such as changing and feeding? This robot scene is a complete fiction but the high cost of labour and overburdened workforce led to the first assembly lines so… what next?
Physical Sciences- Cymatics
Imagine trickling fine sand onto a membrane and passing sound through it, only to find that the sand arranges itself into a pattern. How do you feel as you ‘see sound’? You pass from frequency to frequency, experimenting with harmonies, trying your favourite music, watching the sand respond with different geometric patterns. You try a sound you learned in lunchtime yoga and suddenly you see a sacred pattern emerge. How did the ancients know about the correlation between musical pitches and geometry? Is this real science or is this cosmology or magic? How will your peers review your dabbles in the beautiful geometry of music?
Earth Sciences: Volcanology
Do these minor eruptions mean that a bigger volcano is about to roar to life? Where has the seismic activity been recorded? How does the emission of toxic gases promote life on earth? Does the changing shape of the Earth correlate with volcanic eruptions around the world? To understand the volcano takes a special kind of attention- a life-in-hand-at-every-second awareness of your body amidst boiling volcanic products. A slip of attention, mishap or sudden withdrawal of geological consent will permanently arrest your scientific enquiries. How is your iron-cast courage faring in your aluminium suit?
Earth Sciences: Meteorology
Where will this twister touch down? Will this one be more or less destructive than the previous one? In which direction is this twister spinning? Do they all spin that way?
Can you imagine the howl of the wind and the scent of wet grass and ozone in the air? Can you imagine the electrification of the hair on the back of your neck as you face the storm? How can you stand being so exposed, holding your high definition camera up to the force that would destroy you both in a heartbeat? Assuming you make it home, who can you tell that will attentively listen to your observations?
Life Sciences- Agriculture
A fictional scene in which people are now dispatched with paintbrushes to do less well what insects were once taken for granted to do- pollinate agricultural crops like almonds. Agricultural scientists taught us that 80% of our crops require pollination to set seed. Before pollution, chemicals, changing climate, pests and pathogens and loss of biodiversity had an impact, one third of every bite of our food was attributable to insect pollinators. How do you feel about taking over the job of a bee? How many flowers do you think would grow on a tree? How many trees do you think you could pollinate in a day?
Life Sciences- Entomology
Imagine… The first controlled flights of robotic insects took place in 2013. Things have come a long way in the last 50 years since then. Now when the entomologist goes out in the field with a light, sheet, and aspirator, hoping to capture a new species, robotic insects that mimic natural behaviour arrive in droves. The droning of night insects has taken on a different meaning now as the new drones buzz, click and whir towards the light. At least drone mosquitoes have been programmed to inject repellant at regular intervals…
Prone to Machines
Life Sciences- Medicine
A semi-fictitious scene of medical treatments being executed exclusively by robots. How realistic is it that robots perform open surgery? Would you trust a machine to keep you sedated, manage complex operations and remain error-free for the duration of major surgery? How much do you trust a continuous power source? Would you trust your loved ones to such a scenario? Would a computer make judgments differently to a human if confronted by a complex set of variables? How would a machine consider is human quality of life?
Roof of Heaven Re-Imagined
Physical Sciences- Astronomy
In the 18th century, a pilgrim on hands and knees considered the Roof of Heaven, with small villages spread over hill and dale beneath an open-eyed sun. The unknown artist imagined the heavens to be filled with machinery- cogs and wheels and the like. Here the scene is re-imagined with a few ‘tweaks of modernity’. What do we now know of the astronomical ‘machinery’ in which Earth is found? What body protects us and from what? Why might the modern astronomer be reaching for the comet? Why might the sun be depicted with closed eyes?
Life Sciences- Palynology
Is this a capture or controlled release of pollen into the environment? Are these pollen grains native or exotic or genetically engineered? Does wind or some other force more easily distribute some pollen grains? Why is pollen from one species effective in pollinating only plants of that species and not others? Does pollen look the same when it is wet, dry, exposed to UV, frozen or burnt? How long does pollen remain viable in the landscape? Can you find pollen in the fossil record?
Spanner in the Works
Physical Sciences- Mechanics
How do gravity, magnetic and electrical fields, temperature and motion interfere with mechanical accuracy? Who needs precision? What happens when ill-synchronized machines are used? Considering time, did you know that you need a really accurate clock to measure distances well? Some atomic clocks are so precise they will not lose a second for 15 billion years. Clocks with nanosecond precision in GPS satellites enable us to navigate to within a couple of feet. Perhaps those who value precision most are those who want to keep from getting lost. So where are you now and where are you going?
Wherefore Art Thou?
Life Sciences- Ecology
How do you go progress forward when confronted by a wall of vegetation? How do you find a tiny mammal in all the undergrowth? The radio tracker is signaling that an animal is close by but you know that poachers are prowling nearby too. How will you explain to a group of hungry tribesmen with weapons and minimal education, that their government in the name of global ecology sanctions your trespass on their territory? Do you love this mammal so much that you would go to your grave over it? What is more dangerous- the forest or the poachers?