The Science Café is a chance to informally explore the latest ideas in science and technology and debate the issues. All are welcome.

9th January 2017: The Importance of Plankton

Russell N. Arnott, Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath

Russell Arnott has been an oceanographer, science teacher, and punk-rock guitarist. As well as working as Outreach Officer for WhaleFest: Incredible Oceans, he has recently started a PhD at Bath University’s Water, Environment Infrastructure Resilience Unit.

Plankton are the microscopic plants and animals that inhabit the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes. These amazing and often overlooked organisms not only act as the base for the ocean’s foodwebs but also produce a majority of our atmospheric oxygen. Not only this but plankton also have the ability to regulate our climate and if harnessed, could be the panacea to climate change that we’ve been waiting for.​

This talk will introduce you to the wonderous world of plankton by showcasing all of their weird and wonderful shapes and abilities. Russell will then link it to his research interests as he aims to figure out how their shape dictates how they behave in different aquatic environments.

12th December 2016: Why aren’t we more resilient to climate change and what can we do about it? An economist’s perspective

Dr Peter Gist

Ten years ago Lord Nicholas Stern produced a report which took a new angle on climate change, by arguing that it was the greatest market-failure ever seen, and presented a challenge for economists as well as scientists and engineers. So how can economists help to adapt to the new realities of a warming planet?

December’s Science Café will explore how we make decisions to invest in making ourselves more resilient to the effects of climate change and extreme weather events. Why are we surprised repeatedly by events and never seem to have spent enough? Given that things seems to be getting worse, how can we improve decision making?

Dr Peter Gist is a Director in the engineering firm Arup Management Consultancy and the Arup Fellow in Economics. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law at the University of Bristol.

Link: Peter Gist

14th November 2016: Knowing the unknowable: telling the colour of dinosaurs

Professor Mike Benton, University of Bristol

There has been a great deal of interest in determining colour of ancient animals. Once considered impossible, the colour of dinosaurs was presented in 2010, using an ultrastructural method. Current research focuses on extending the method to other taxa, but also looking critically at the method and extending it through ultrastructural and geochemical studies to become a more widely useful tool in identifying a broad range of original pigments.

This kind of study raises wider questions about the nature of science and scientific testing. Some would take a critical view of all historical sciences such as palaeontology because it is not possible to run and repeat experiments. However, palaeontologists, and geologists in general, have some useful tools at their disposal to make the historical earth and life sciences as fully scientific as any other field of the natural sciences.

Link: Mike Benton