THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Science blog

15 May 2015

To survive we must explore

If you couldn’t make it to our most recent TalkScience event fear not. The latest instalment in our TalkScience series is now available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

In the 28th event of our popular series we discussed what we have learnt from doing science in extreme environments, and if it is worth the high financial and human cost. The event was chaired by author and broadcaster Dr Gabrielle Walker who kindly stepped in at the last minute. Our expert speakers were Professor Jane Francis, Dr Michael Bravo and Dr Kevin Fong.

As ever the debate was thoughtful and wide ranging. We discussed how extreme environments affect the scientists' ability to actually do the research, and debated whether the development of new technologies is reducing the need for humans in future explorations. We were also privileged to hear our four panellists’ personal experiences of doing science in extreme environments. Jane Francis shared a particularly memorable experience: When she first started researching in the Antarctic female researchers had to wear men’s thermal underwear as female specific kit was not available. As the first female director of the British Antarctic Survey, Jane was pleased to report that this is no longer the case! There was also interest from the audience on the issue of diversity in extreme science. Although historically exploration has been the preserve of white males this is certainly not the case nowadays.

 

We also discussed the unexpected serendipity of historic data informing the present and the challenge of doing extreme science when many projects with more tangible and immediate benefits lack funding. Kevin Fong spoke of his own internal conflict when going to NASA to discuss plans for a multibillion pound mission to Mars while back home he was working in intensive care units where they desperately needed an extra dialysis machine.

At the end of the evening our four panellists were in broad agreement about the importance of extreme exploration with Kevin pithily summing up with:

“To explore we must survive but, as a species, to survive we must explore”.

We are currently hatching plans for TalkScience 29 which will take place at the end of June. Check back soon to find out more.

 Katie Howe

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