The "Mission: Climate Science" was an event held at the Royal Botanic Garden on the weekend of 24 and 25 October. It involved climate scientists engaging with the general public through drop-in activities, exhibits and interactive performances based on the "Greenhouse Gases Emissions and Feedback Programme", the "Methane in the Arctic - Measurements and Modelling (MAMM)" project, and the "Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM)", all of which are funded by NERC.
On Monday 26 October, the focus of communicating with the general public changed to engaging with 80 school students from a local secondary and primary school. Both these audiences had very different prior knowledge and very different aims, which were different again from the general public audience at the weekend.
The secondary students were studying Geography at senior level. A component of the CfE Higher Geography Global Issues unit requires a study of climate change. The senior students viewed the forty-five minute interactive performance using a mock version of the UK FAAM research aircraft. They viewed the detailed preparation of a flight to measure methane emissions in the Arctic. This comprised the mission brief, safety checks and demonstrations of instruments required for sample collection on the plane and on the tundra. Following the performance, the students questioned the scientists about their research. This provided an opportunity to inspire the enthusiastic students to consider future career pathways. The hard working team of GHG research scientists was buoyed by comments such as “I wish we could do more of this” and “It gave me a real insight into actual research”.
The primary school pupils were delightful and enthusiastic and kept the team extremely busy. The GHG research team altered their performance to involve some pupils as co-pilot and instrument scientists whilst other pupils provided the soundtrack of an aircraft. In this way it was possible to pitch the performance at a suitable level. The workshop concluded with further interactive activities to help the pupils understand the basic ideas behind climate change.
It is difficult to adequately praise the skill of the GHG team in adapting the presentation of their research to the schools. The taxing demands of working with students at Level 6 at one moment and then engaging with pupils at Level 2 an hour later were easily met. Perhaps the primary pupil comments summarise it best of all: "I thought it was awesome!" "That was really fun and I enjoyed it." "I loved it and I found it interesting and fabulous." "It was all really interesting!"
This communication between scientists and learners has inspired an expansion of the educational experience that the pupils gained from the original event at the Royal Botanic Garden. Further activities have been developed with the primary staff with the intention that these will become more generally available early next year.
Without the commitment of the school pupils and staff this event would not have been such a success. Our thanks are also due to: Neil Spiers of Widening Participation for providing contacts within the local schools; to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for hosting the event; to Paul Palmer (Principal Investigator for GAUGE); to Stephan Matthiesen (Programme Manager for the GHG Programme) and Ute Skiba (Center for Ecology and Hydrology); and to the many talented communicators who made the day such a rich experience for all: Emanuel Blei, Robyn Butler, Nicholas Cowan, Siegfried Gonzi, Anna Mackie, Roseanna McDonald, Janet Moxley, Hemant Tripathi and Abby Wallwork.
The event was organised by members of the GAUGE project at the School of GeoScience, University of Edinburgh, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) Edinburgh; with support from the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM), the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), and the Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratory (WACL), University of York.