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Showing posts from May, 2014

Materials and energy… over a pint?

Bristol, along with 20 other cities, in 6 different countries, was host to an interesting approach to science communication – over three nights, 19 - 21 May 2014, science took place at the pub!

Although varied, relevant and interesting research takes place every day at Universities, in many cases the general public is completely unaware of what goes on inside them – other than lectures and exams! Pint of Science is a volunteer-based, not-for-profit festival, which takes academic research into the everyday world, by having scientists at the pub sharing their work and answering questions.

Premièring this year in Bristol, the festival was well received, with many of the events sold-out before the doors were even opened. Across the city, four pubs opened their doors to a curious audience looking to learn about a range of topics from nanotechnology, to energy, to the brain and oceans or volcanoes.

Engaging society being at the heart of the Cabot Institute’s aims, it was quick to become in…

A brighter future for India’s energy sector?

In 2001, the Kutch District of Gujarat, India was struck by a magnitude 7.7 earthquake which killed around 20,000 people and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. The total property damage was estimated at $5.5 billion and had a disastrous effect on what was already an ailing economy. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Narendra Modi, a member of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), became the Chief Minister of Gujarat and led the region out of darkness and into economic growth and prosperity. By 2007, Gujarat contained 5% of the total population yet accounted for 25% of total bank finance in India and continues to outpace growth in other states. Indeed, when I visited Kutch in January, it was clear that there was a growing and aspirational middle class population. Modi was recently elected Prime Minister of India, triumphing over Rhaul Ghandi, a member of the centre-left India National Congress (INC) Party, and with it became one of the most powerful players in t…

What the frack! - A guide to fracking and its legal implications

The recent UKELA South West region seminar hosted by the Cabot Institute provided an ideal opportunity for a rational discussion of both the technical aspects of fracking (courtesy of Professor Mike Kendall) and its legal implications in the UK (courtesy of James Taylor of Simmons and Simmons).

With CO2 emissions from gas combustion around 50% lower than that of coal the move to gas as a transition fuel evidently holds appeal. US shale gas production has been praised for its contribution to the fall in US CO2 levels which have reduced back to those seen in 1990. However as was highlighted during the talk, the current availability and low cost of coal presents a problem in incentivising this move. More importantly however, it presents a potentially significant problem for global emission levels. If the UK replaces its coal supply with gas and displaces this coal onto the global market, total emissions will increase with the existing coal and a new gas supply both being burnt.

The appea…

From Apollo 11 to Beagle 2: the amazing life of Professor Colin Pillinger

Professor Colin Pillinger, the Bristol-born scientist, passed away today at the age of 70. Although he is probably best known as the leader of the Beagle 2 project, the attempt to land a British spacecraft on Mars, he was involved in ground-breaking scientific research for over 40 years.

In 1968, Colin joined the University of Bristol as a postdoctoral researcher working within the Organic Geochemistry Unit. Along with Geoff Eglinton and James Maxwell, he helped to analyse the first samples of lunar soil and rock retrieved from the Apollo 11 moon landings (Abell et al., 1970). To avoid contamination, the samples were transported from Houston triple-bagged, opened in a clean room and extracted using purified solvents and reagents. Yet despite all these precautions, the Apollo 11 soil did not show any molecular fossils accepted as biological markers. Although less newsworthy, the Bristol-based team also identified the presence of methane on the moon, produced by chemical reactions drive…

Implementing volcanic hazard assessment operationally

Following the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, the National Risk Register now lists volcanic hazards at the highest priority level. Volcanic hazard assessment draws together scientific knowledge of volcanic processes, observational evidence and statistical modelling to assess and forecast hazard and risk. Researchers at the University of Bristol have been central to the development of local, regional and global volcanic risk modelling over recent decades. One aspect of ongoing research is to develop a strategy for devising and implementing hazard assessments in an operational environment, to provide decision support during a volcanic crisis.

Last week, I organised a workshop on Operational Techniques for Volcanic Hazard Assessment. The 2-day workshop, held in Vienna, Austria and supported by the European Geosciences Union and the Cabot Institute, brought together researchers from 11 institutions in eight countries to explore current practice in methods applie…

Where does all the power go?

Ever wondered how much of your electricity bill goes on charging your laptop, or whether your TV is a bigger drain on your wallet than your kettle? I have…

A good basis to use in answering that question is the Annual ‘Energy Consumption in the UK’ report by DECC. Using their data on household electricity consumption, I’ve plotted a short history of UK electricity use by appliance. I’ve tried to aggregate similar devices together to create 6 categories: lighting, refrigeration, washing & drying, consumer electronics (TVs, consoles, device chargers), computing (desktops, laptops, monitors, printers) and cooking. It’s also important to note that this data is a total for all households in the UK, and is not taken on a per device basis.

The biggest individual energy guzzling devices today are TVs, refrigerators, halogen bulbs and power supply units (including chargers).
Some of this information isn’t surprising- refrigeration is notoriously expensive in physical terms, as it involves …

How much money should we spend to protect ourselves from climate change?

Investing in climate change resilience
The February floods left many asking how the damage could have been avoided and why we weren't better prepared. The government came under attack from all sides; David Cameron said "money is no object" for the relief effort, but angry residents asked why this wasn't the case when funding was cut to flood protection a few years before.
#467028705 / gettyimages.com
Peter Gist, an economist and Director of Arup Management Consultancy, visited the University of Bristol this week to give a lecture asking why we aren't more resilient to climate change and what we can do about it.

It is a complicated question. Spending millions of pounds of taxpayers' money is not without its risks. In April, a report was released showing that the £473 million stash of Tamiflu was essentially useless.  It was stockpiled against the risk of a flu pandemic that never happened.  Was this money wasted?  Only because the problem didn't arise.  The …