GSI Seminar Series: Dr Raphaelle D. Haywood – There’s no place like home: Placing Earth in its astronomical and geological contexts

Blog written by Daneen Cowling

A new year and a new set of interesting seminars!

The first of 2022 was from Dr Raphaëlle Haywood, a Senior Lecturer in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Exeter. Dr Haywood gave an immense talk covering the hunt for exoplanets, how we find another Earth-like planet, and shared some important insights into why we should not assume there is a planet B.


On a finite world, a cosmic perspective is not a luxury, it’s a necessity

Caleb A. Scharf, 2014

Dr Haywood began with thought-provoking set of quotes and statistics that brought home the importance of why we need to have this astronomical view and appreciation of our position within it. To realise – like our humble blue planet – the existence of planets orbiting other stars is extremely common.

Particularly important – the occurrence of “Earth-like planets” are also common, potentially between 9-21% of suns have a planet like Earth. But what is a planet like Earth?

An Earth-like planet is similar to us in size – around a 1/2 to 1 radius of Earth. But importantly, it also sits within the habitable zone. This means it is a suitable distance from it’s sun to allow for 30-100% of heat received on Earth to permit liquid water.

Dr Haywood estimated that there could be 63 BILLION temperate Earth size planets in our galaxy.


How to find other Earths

Find Earth-like planets goes far beyond it’s size and sun distance – we have tools that help us find the signatures of Earth – of life.

Earth is a complex self-regulating system composed of interacting systems of the planets rocks, atmosphere, ocean and biosphere. We can use the biosphere and the signatures it produces to help in our exploration. But what does this look like?

Key components of our biosphere can be identified through their signature wavelengths. through the reflectance signatures, we can identify:

  • Water and Water Vapour
  • Oxygen and Methane – this tells us there is a chemical disequilibrium and therefore there is life, as oxygen and methane are the bi-products
  • Near-Infared (NIR) “red-edge” – a sharp rise at around 700nm on the reflectance spectrum tells us there is a prevalence of vegetation

This means, using these signatures and tools we can understand what might be on another planet.

This is an exciting time for planet search and discovery – as from this year (2022) a new TerraHunting project will kick off a 10-year survey of 40 sun-like stars, to explore the planets and their resemblance to Earth. From this project and the huge dataset it will create, NASA plan to use this data to strategically begin a direct-imaging project, able to measure actual temperatures and investigate the prevalence of atmosphere on these potential Earth-like planets, and ultimately contribute great strides to the search for extra-terrestrial life!


No Planet B

As exciting as finding another planet with life on, Dr Haywood set it straight that regardless, there is no planet B. Even if we wanted to set up camp on another planet, the distances involved are way beyond our technological capacities – our nearest Earth-like planet is 300 years away at the speed of light. Even our Mars neighbour is out of our technological capability to transform into a habitable planet for humans.

Dr Haywood then went onto remind us that our planet, through its geological history, has never been the same state – it has consistently shifted into new versions of itself. Even human civilisations have shifted the planet trajectory of Earth – in its appearance and its observable signatures from space. Our current state of Earth has electromagnetic signatures, masses of waste, chemical signatures in our atmosphere – but what would an Earth signature look like it if it was inhabited by only indigenous communities? Communities that are able to live harmoniously with the Earth and the complex systems that regulate it. Maybe, this sustainable way of life isn’t even detectable? What’s to say other occurrences of life won’t be living so sustainable they are undetectable?

Lots of questions and exciting developments taken to get closer to answer them will make the next decades of planetary exploration an exciting one.


To learn more about Dr Haywood’s work, see her profile here.

If you’re a member of staff or student of the University of Exeter, feel free to join a mini-module called “No Place Like Home”: https://vle.exeter.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=13080

It was created by Dr Arwen Nicholson, Federica Rescigno and Dr Haywood as part of last year’s Summer School on Sustainability that was organised by CEMPS.

To view the full seminar, you can watch the recording here.

For more GSI events, stay up to date on the GSI website.

Voices of the Dart – hearing and helping our water bodies

A September workshop activity by Darcy Howle (GSI Intern) and John Bruun (GSI SDG Zero Hunger theme lead). Blog post by John

We can view the Dart as a form of living entity that many people share and benefit from. The Dart, one of our local rivers flows from its upland Dartmoor catchment, and as it gathers momentum travels down and past the wood and grassy landscapes, local villages and towns and joining the sea at Dartmouth. In recent years the land is getting drier, climatic we think. Since 2015 water has been extracted from the river to irrigate the land, which had not been needed before. There is a deep concern about how we can adapt to these changes.  The Bioregional learning centre, a South Devon Community Interest Company have convened a generic conversation to identify the Voice of the Dart. In September groups from GSI, Tidelines, South West Water, Soundart Radio, Westcountry Rivers Trust, the Environment Agency, the Bioregional learning centre (host) as well as artists and film makers, gathered for a workshop next to the river in Dartington: the start of a six month activity. A few from GSI joined: Darcy Howle found: ‘The artistic approach to viewing water was really eye opening. The mindfulness approach heightened your senses and made you experience aspects of the Dart that we take for granted.’ We all participated through walking 1-1 meetings down to the river, then group ideas sharing both at the river, later around a fire and a river story board. The emphasis was on active listening to one another, enabling formation of creative sharing ideas for the science and art. In essence the goal of finding the Voice of the Dart (and indeed any river) is to help save and share our water resources more effectively with this art and science fusion showing the importance of water in people’s lives – we heard the feeling of hope.

One of the workshop feedback activity sessions – where we all found these mushrooms living in a tree next to the river; experiencing the river (John Bruun): with sound, its living smell’s and touch.

GSI Seminar Series – Victor Leshyk: Philosophy of Science Art; a tool for building science literacy

Reposted from Daneen Cowling’s blog

For our second seminar of our summer series (11/05/2021) Victor Leshyk gave an art-filled talk on his philosophies for the creation, use, and power of Science Art. Victor led the audience through an extensive portfolio of his jaw-dropping work, exemplifying it’s importance of getting Science Art right to improve science literacy, but also fight back against the progress-limiting conspiracists.


Victor Leshyk is the Director of Science and Art at the Centre for Ecosystem Science and Society, Northern Arizona University. Victor has over 20 years experience expressing scientific knowledge through fine art. He has used this alliance to help scientists have means to be better communicators, and for the public to have the means to be better learners. Through this experience Victor has developed philosophy to apply to creating, developing and applying Science Art.


Victor explained his found philosophy through his artwork. To see examples of his work, please visit his website (we definitely recommend you check it out!). Victor started to question what Science Art can do and what we are aiming for, starting with the conjured images and meanings of a ‘worldview’. From this exploration, Victor took us how these views and depictions have changed overtime. These depictions have been limited by the edges of knowledge, but as Victor scaled down from the world view, to cells to particles – it is clear the frontiers of knowledge opened by science discoveries, have created new bounds to what we can understand and what we now compromise for a worldview.


Victor then highlighted the quote by Neil Degrasse Tyson: “The good thing about science is that it is true whether or not you believe in it”. But using the pandemic and the protests against orders to stay home backed by science, the science is still irrelevant if you can’t communicate the science to the other people. Hence, Victor proposes an alternative of: “A great thing about Art is that is can help determine whether people do believe in Science”.

Victor backed the ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ phrase with the stats – pictures can be understood 60000 times faster than words. Then told the importance of this during the Renaissance period, whereby much of scientific knowledge was stored through art, which has increased in detail. Scientific knowledge, artistic detail and storytelling accuracy have increased in tandem.

Victor then told the story of his own journey with Science Art. But soon discovered that simply making more art does not make the world more scientifically literate. Highlighted by the prevalence of conspiracy theorists and flat-earthers, Victor stated we are living in a crisis of science literacy. SciArt is hope to address this – existing as a spectrum. On one end ‘Found Art’ – the beauty in this existing in nature, or ‘Fine Art’ – free-form abstract art creating experiences. SciArt has capacity to create new worldviews – to communicate the breadth of life, the different behaviours, the diversity of past life and environments, mass extinction events and the biogeochemical changes that caused them. Victor demonstrated how he has used SciArt to ultimately help us learn from the past using these lenses. Learning from the past helps inform the present, which is especially true in the context of anthropogenic climate change and the pressures we are putting on the earth systemm. As Victore displays through his art – this is in parallel to the atmospheric and oceanic chemical changes that have happened before.


But what about data visualisation? Can’t graphs serve the same purpose as art to communicate science and data? Victor proved otherwise, arguing that the data can speak for itself but still not be heard. Reading graphs and understanding attributes is not accessible or as instantaneous as absorbing art. Word-less art can still communicate the same message of a comprehensive graph.

Science Art also lets us see through an experts eyes. Victor used the example of how, through the eyes of an expert, a lump of chert is rich evidence of past environments and life. SciArt can tell the story visible to the expert and reveal it to the world.

Science Art helps us care about things we cannot see, e.g. ecosystems exchanging and cycling matter. Victor also highlighted the power AciArt has to communicate the danger and urgency of a changing landscape. He has used the case of peatlands, which to view the landscape as is, it’s a peaceful, beautiful thing. But through the ‘x-ray’ of SciArt, erupting CO2 from thawing, dynamic movement of the peat, methane bursting through ice – this can all be revealed to show the true dangerous nature of the landscape.

As real as mud is – it’s a personality, this can be conveyed through SciArt. Responsible personification can help bring the process of microbe behaviour change with thawing, we can then easily see these real mechanisms. SciArt can therefore help build responsible drama with accurate passion. Science does not have to be emotionally sterile, the passion behind the work and it’s importance should also be illustrated. Victor shows the impact of this when climate change impacts such as wildfires, unlock legacy carbon that has been buried for geological-scale time. This gives emotion to the irreversibility of these tipping points.

The ‘Trowl Problem’, as Victor describes it, is the case of media communications of science that use a trowl to illustrate the finding. A missed opportunity and failure of imagination; use of SciArt instead would add tenfold to the article to help put the science into peoples understanding. This is evidently a current barrier to the application of SciArt.

Victor also explored the role of SciArt as invoking our intuitive visual reasoning – how we respond best and have done through history, to props and visuals to communicate and understand things. He exemplified this with mapping supply chains, and the additions of simple toy-like graphics can have for the digestibility of the science. Intuitive thinking also helps the use of SciArt to help us see into the future. Either through the pressures that will amount of services with future climate changes, or how iconic landscapes are projected to change. This helps reinforce changes to be very real and comprehendible further than statistics of temperature and precipitation change.

Popularisation of science in TV, movies etc. has also helped give science a face – but as a double-edged sword. It has portrayed scientists in a certain way that creates distrust and sensationalism. Victor argues, science fiction is another avenue for SciArt to create accurate portrayals and repair the trusts.

Victor finished on two services of SciArt: How it allows us to keep updating our ideas, we can continually add and develop past and current understandings through art and developments of it’s various mediums. Finally, Science Art helps us see our place in the world. The world is big, it is old and it is complex. SciArt helps make sense of the parts and processes of the world and the role we play amongst it all.


Victor Leshyk introduced, explained and demonstrated the power, potential, and inspirational beauty of Science Art. As well as demonstrating his portfolio and progression of science art, Victor also shared his courses he’s run with students to help these scientists be better communicators through SciArt. For information on this course, the questions posed to Victor and his seminar in full, the recording is available here.

Please keep up to date with GSI events via the websiteTwitterLinkedIn, or join the mailing list by contacting infoGSI@exeter.ac.uk

From Student to Teacher: Making MOOCs

By Daneen Cowling

What’s a MOOC?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s) are becoming a widely used method to up-skill and educate. Free courses ranging in all sorts of subjects and skills are produced by universities and companies, all over the world. With the courses, interactive activities and alternative learning methods are used to educate it’s learners. Some courses also have facilitators/mentors, which help guide discussions and questions – sometimes being the experts doing the teaching. The biggest draw to these courses in my opinion, is the ability to have a global learning experience, unlike anything else. The platforms are available to global learners, which means you can have interesting discussions with completely unique ideas and views you would have never before been exposed to. This global learning network, in combination with interactive and varied learning methods, make MOOCs and incredibly useful and insightful means of education and CPD.

My Experience with MOOCs

I was motivated to write this blog as I have had such a positive experience with MOOCs, specifically the climate science ones from the University of Exeter, I wanted to share how they have helped my education/academic and professional development journey.

LEARNER

My journey started in Sixth Form (Havant Sixth Form College) where, as a keen geographer preparing to write a UCAS application to study BSc Geography at the University of Exeter (2015). I wanted to see if there was anything else I could do to help my current learning and something additional to discuss on my personal statement. I can’t remember how I came across the course – potentially from a blog of things you can do additional at sixth form or something …

I came across FutureLearn which is one of the main platforms for MOOCs. The website is super accessible and gives lots of options to find courses that suit you e.g. the subject/the duration/the course creator. By filtering by environmental courses, by chance I was able to find the brand new course launched by the University of Exeter; “Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions”. The course was amazing, nothing like anything I’d experienced before. The course was made up of mostly videos with some articles and interactive activities. Straight off the bat, you introduce yourself and why you’re joining etc., which is amazing to see all these fellow learners state their jobs and countries they live in, ranging in ages, it was very exciting to start learning with this community.

The video material was mostly of Dr Damien Mansell (who later became my first-year tutor and uni) and Professor Tim Lenton (who is an absolute legend and became my dissertation and masters supervisor .. soon to carry on working with him for my PhD!). Along with other scientists from Exeter and other institutions, the material was communicated so effectively because they were all enthusiastic leaders in their fields. Tim is especially good at communicating all sorts of science – which for the case of the course ran through Earth’s climate history to future solutions. The experience was so interactive, even with all the videos and articles that were included. What I was learning was so exciting and interesting in the way it was communicated, I always found myself researching more and continuing interesting discussions in the comments.

This was such a useful resource to have at A level, not only for the high level of teaching consistent throughout but how the introduction to new resources (e.g. research papers), the language and the collaborative environment enhanced my learning experience in Sixth Form. Not only this, but the course also set me up incredibly well for university. From this course, I was able to see the benefit of having the confidence to discuss ideas with fellow learners, which meant this transition to a similar environment at University came fairly effortlessly. The material on the course also crossed-over to a lot of the Geography course material in my first year and whet my appetite for things I could see myself specialising in my second and third years. Moreover, from being taught by Tim and Damien via an online course to then have close academic relationships with them and be taught by them in a lecture hall was pretty surreal!

I don’t want to be bold a say this course single-handedly got me into Exeter on the course I love, but I definitely believe it helped my case by demonstrating I was keen on the subject and be initiative to learn more. It really helped with my UCAS application and has been a useful example for other applications since. I think MOOCs are effective tools for A-Level students – all for the reasons I have explained. They are even useful for uni students, incredibly accessible methods of learning with no ‘age bound’ tie to the material covered. I’ve made suggestions for other students to use it at my old sixth form, and hope to keep encouraging more to use MOOCs as a form of learning and skills development.

 I loved the course so much I paid for a certificate of participation after (~£30)

FACILITATOR/MENTOR

In my second year of university, I also got the opportunity to become a facilitator/mentor on the climate change MOOC. Of course, participating in the course during sixth form was a massive benefit in the interview and definitely contributed to getting the role. The job was great to meet new like-minded people on the facilitator team, earn money flexibly around my studies, and stay current with the science – which helped my learning alongside. Being a facilitator on the course consisted of answering any questions the learners had beyond the course material, and directing them to any additional resources that would be useful to help understand some of the new concepts. As a facilitator, I was also responsible for maintaining healthy discussions between learners. This could be via asking a question in the comments for others to respond and discuss amongst themselves or monitoring some responses/flagging issues where needed in case some dialogue turned negative and inappropriate. Each week, a team of myself and the other facilitators (UG and post-grad students), and Tim and Damien, sat on live video Q&A sessions. These were really interesting and a great challenge to think on the spot with the pressure of being recorded. These sessions were well received by learners – so very satisfying to know we were helping with their learning journey!

The experience I had in this role was great, I learnt a lot more about the subject from hearing new ideas and perspective, and also learnt new discussion facilitation skills. Further, I developed my appreciation and enthusiasm for science communication. So much so – I applied for the role again in my final year! This time with a year’s experience in the role, I was more senior to the new applicants and so I was a useful contact to have if they ever had issues with setting up/dealing with difficult people on the platform/useful resources. With my experience, I was also invited to sit on a panel – with facilitator and content corrector colleague Liam Taylor, to talk about our experiences with the MOOC and facilitation as a useful learning tool. Our audience were academics from other disciplines, keen to get going on their own MOOC plans, but wanted to see how the facilitation element works and benefits the learner experience. I was also able to contribute to video material to promote the MOOC’s, talking of my own experiences as a learner and a facilitator.

I’m happier than I look I promise …

CONTENT CREATOR

During my final year, I also got to create some new content for the new split to two separate courses; The Science and one for The Solutions. During the summer I had an internship with Artecology; an ecological engineering company creating better places for biodiversity. One of their signature designs is a vertipool – an artificial rock pool imprinted with shapes and textures that testing has shown to enhance the species diversity and richness on what would have previously been a textureless and mostly lifeless seawall. They are specifically tackling the climate change and construction driven problem of “coastal squeeze” – whereby space for species to live is fighting a losing battle against rising sea levels and rigid coastal protection structures. This innovative and urgently needed solution seemed like it would fit nicely on the course, to communicate more localised issues of climate change and what current solutions are in place to tackle them. I enjoyed creating this content, and from the discussions with learners, it seemed to be a good addition. It was also advantageous to cooperate with industry on the course, to bring home this isn’t just a university-led response, real companies are making changes – and others should follow. Artecology has since gone on to promote the course and the MOOC method of learning, so this addition has been a great positive for Exeter course promotion and industry involvement, and for Artecology.

I was also able to continue this creator role during my MSc (2019). This time, to work as part of a collaborative team with Tim and Liam, alongside the Eden Project, to create a new MOOC called Invisible Worlds. This was an incredible opportunity to really use all my experiences with MOOCs over the past 4 years. I was able to craft the content and the narrative the Eden Project wanted for their course, into something that was accessible and interactive for learners. The project was a creative challenge to strike a good balance and consensus between the University and the Eden Project – but the course was largely a success and complimented Edens new expedition. It was interesting to do the ‘behind the scenes’ work on Future Learn too – making the right tweaks so the information is portrayed the best it can be.

Courses I’ve been involved with as a learner, facilitator and creator

If it’s not already been made obvious – I think MOOC’s are amazing. These Exeter MOOCs have continued to contribute to my academic and professional development, and I have no doubt their contributions are yet to end. It’s been great to watch and be a part of the growth in the content available and demand for more courses, especially how useful they have been during the current COVID crisis. Hopefully, schools, colleges and universities can become more aware of all the free educational resources that are available at such a high standard of quality. More significantly, these MOOCs should also be more accessible to those outside an academic bubble – those in industry or just those curious and keen to learn! Education and the experience that comes with MOOC learning is incredibly special and something to be continually shared. I look forward to trying more MOOCs myself and explore more creative contributions to make to the University of Exeter growing catalogue of courses.

Perspectives on the GSI Masters residential

By Rebecca Robinson and Ema Saltone, MSc Global Sustainability Solutions students

“Visualising new and complex ideas in ways we haven’t before” by Ema Saltone

When the group of us entered the Kaleider studios on a Monday morning, having barely covered the welcome lectures and just about able to remember everyone’s faces, we had little idea of what to expect from the residential. It was all still new, still somewhat daunting, but also exciting.

We were welcomed with free coffee – a smart trick to get at least the caffeine addicts in a good mood from the start.

With a group of blinking, wide-eyed students entering our habitat for the next three days, we began with introductions, as well as presentations from companies who were keen to work with us. Which was reassuring – it may be quite nice to be potentially employable.

With lifted spirits about our future careers, we got on with lectures and tasks that made up the residential. The parts I enjoyed most were interactive practical activities, which helped us to visualise new and complex ideas in ways we haven’t before – it was quite inspiring to feel your old understanding of the world tear apart as you learn to see the world in new ways. These tasks have planted seeds of new ideas which will probably influence the way I think for a long time.

I appreciated having been able to get to know others on the course throughout the residential. We worked in teams or pairs on most tasks, and so it was nearly impossible not to have spoken to mostly everyone. Not only spoken, we were pushed into a circle and forced to shake hands with everyone – quite literally. It’s not a scary as it sounds though, even the most introverted of us seemed a lot livelier afterwards. And – we knew everyone’s names by the end – something that I have not experienced during undergraduate studies (when 300 people in a lecture hall meant only speaking to the two people you met on the first day. So, this was a nice change).

Perhaps it was the amount of information that was blasted through our minds, or maybe just a summer without assignments having crippled our educational fitness, but the three days at the Kaleider studios were shattering. However, we have witnessed the excitement of the faculty and the external partners about our course, which made it hard not to get infected with the excitement. We were also given useful information to be ready for the course ahead. So, if not for anything else, the residential was useful as a memorable introduction to what awaits us, providing us with a frame of mind that I believe will benefit us throughout our studies.

“We had the opportunity to learn from people with a diverse range of backgrounds and saw how we could fit into the bigger picture of global sustainability” by Rebecca Robinson

Our week started as all good weeks should, with strong coffee. We were welcomed into the Kaleider Studio and settled in straight away to our jam-packed week of workshops, lectures and networking.

The residential covered a broad range of topics from how to define the Technosphere to looking at the implications of a new geological epoch. The studio was an excellent working environment and gave us the opportunity to branch out away from campus.

Our first afternoon was the chance to meet potential companies to complete our internship with. A unique aspect of the MSc Global Sustainability Solutions programme is the dissertation. Instead of completing an academic dissertation we are given the option of turning this into an internship with an external partner. During the afternoon we heard pitches from companies about their current sustainability issues and research options we could collaborate with them on.

For example, the Devon County Council representative was keen to find out what the barriers are to recycling and potential options for how they could be improved. The scope of the company’s pitches were wide ranging and offered a broad selection of topics from construction to sailing. We were then let loose to network with the partners and discuss potential internships for the Summer.

Day two’s focus was on ways we can discuss and teach climate change. We were introduced to the dialogic approach and the bicycle model for climate change education at school. We were shown the importance of co-production and how the effect on everyone needs to be incorporated into the method used. The afternoon was an introduction to systems thinking, showcased through a series of games and practical activities. The day concluded with a session on how to make changes by choosing the appropriate entry point. We were shown the importance of language, humour and conveying a positive message.

The final day gave us the opportunity to build on our understanding so far and start thinking about our group work to come. The morning’s topic was prosocial behaviour followed by an exercise looking at how we wanted the future to look vs how to get there.

These three days were the perfect opportunity to delve into the course content in an engaging but relaxed format. We had the opportunity to learn from people with a diverse range of backgrounds and saw how we could fit into the bigger picture of global sustainability.