Geoscience Horizons

Press Release

Royal Holloway, University of London

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: 31 October 2003

CONTACT: Christine Long
Press & PR Officer
Royal Holloway
University of London
Tel: 0044 (0) 1784 43967
christine.long@rhul.ac.uk

Royal Holloway geoscientists to present at GSA meeting in Seattle

Three members of the Geology Department at Royal Holloway, University of London are presenting at the 115th annual meeting of the Geological Society of America, which takes place November 2-5, in Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Alejandro Amilibia, Professor Andrew C. Scott and Alun Lewis have been accepted to present at this year's GSA meeting, held at the Washington State Convention and Trade Centre in Seattle. Approximately 7200 geoscientists are expected to attend, making this the largest annual meeting in GSA history.

Alejandro Amilibia, a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow from Royal Holloway, University of London, and a member of the Fault Dynamics Research Group, is presenting on "Inversion tectonics at Cordillera de Domeyko and its control on giant porphyry copper emplacement: new insights on Flat-slab subduction kinematics during the Tertiary".

The Cordillera de Domeyko is a complex Mesozoic-Tertiary structural belt, which forms part of the north Chilean Pre-Cordillera morpho-tectonic unit. The research explains The Domeyko Range as an Inversion Tectonics orogen, and shows how giant porphyry copper bodies, which are emplaced within this belt, used the Inverted extensional Faults as Feeders. By the other hand, the adakitic affinity of the emplaced porphyries Cu-Mo Deposits (la Escondida, Chuquicamata) suggest the existence of a subducting flat-slab under the Central Andes during the Tertiary, that will explain both, the tectonic and magmatic evolution of this area.

Andrew C. Scott, Professor of Palaeobotany is presenting "Were fossils once living? Investigating a seventeenth century conundrum". When Frederico Cesi founded Europe's oldest Scientific Academy, the 'Accademeia dei Linceii' in Italy, 1603, one of his first and longest running projects was to study the fossils, which were found on his land in Umbria, Italy. Working with Francesco Stelluti, a fellow Lincean, Cesi collected and drew many hundreds of fossil specimens, especially of fossil woods. Cesi was unable to publish his work before his death, so it was left to Stelluti to publish a thin volume in 1637, where he claimed that the woods were not once living.

Few later researchers, therefore, referred to this work. It is possible that Stelluti took this position for political reasons; the work was sponsored by Cardinal Barbarini and it followed the trial of Gallileo, another member of the Linceii. However, most of the original drawings from this project are now in the library of Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle, England, and recent research into this material, including the oldest known geological field sketches, have enabled Professor Scott to rediscover many of the original sites in Italy. Recollection of the fossil woods and further study of their occurrence and preservation, has shown that the correct conclusion, that the plants were once living, would have been difficult for seventeenth century scientists to demonstrate, given the lack of botanical and geological knowledge at the time.

"This research, which investigates some of the beginnings of geological and palaeontological enquiry, shows how original documentary evidence together with modern geological research may shed new light on our understanding of the development of science" said Professor Scott.

Alun Lewis, a Senior Lecturer in Science Communication at Royal Holloway, University of London, is presenting "Have we got the science communication model wrong?" which addresses issues of improving public understanding of science and the need for more effective communication from scientists in order to achieve this.

"Although there is a need for science translators, there is a greater need to produce working scientists who can tell the public an engaging tale which explains what they are doing. The public wants to hear about science from those who do it, but scientists need to be taught how to tell a simple yet accurate story that will appeal to all." said Lewis.

Currently, scientists are not encouraged to develop their imagination in this way, but with properly taught communication skills, Lewis argues, scientists would be able to give good science interviews for print, radio or television; with the media coming back for more. When under-graduates are introduced to the principles and techniques of science, they should also be experimenting with effective communication techniques and, on graduation, be as comfortable with the technology of film, radio, image manipulation and the written word as they are with a hammer, microscope, spectrometer and computer.

The research stresses the need to find ways to remove the mental "my subject" button, which when touched, causes scientists to revert to the stilted and unnatural style of report writing.

Lewis concludes: "If we unlock the creative side of the next generation of scientists now, and give them the opportunity to experiment with the vibrant ideas entombed in their subject through different media, they will naturally be driven to find an audience and fire them with enthusiasm".

For further information, please contact Christine Long, Press & PR Officer, Royal Holloway, University of London, England. Tel: 0044 (0) 1784 43967, email christine.long@rhul.ac.uk

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