MindTheLab! The QUEST to reach the Public

The QUEST team is always eager to engage the public – even if that means enduring the chilly winds of the Berlin Underground! MindTheLab – Science in the Metro (http://www.mindthelab.org) is a new communication  approach that aims to connect scientists with the general public. After the first event in Athens, MindTheLab came to Berlin on the 8th of November and we (Norbert and Seb) participated in the event by setting up a booth at the U-Bahn station Möckernbrücke. Starting in the early afternoon, we talked to all interested people about climate research. We had many interesting encounters and highly engaging discussions. Although at times we felt like Jehovah’s witnesses trying to distribute leaflets, it was exciting to be able to discuss with people about climate change, climate impacts on society, and lack of political will to respond urgently to climate change. We received nearly 100% positive feedback, with many expressing their gratitude to climate scientists in general, and also for our active engagement at Möckernbrücke in particular. The only thing we missed were a few politicians to discuss with – but then again, who would expect them to travel with the Underground…?!

We will certainly continue to engage the public – next time in 2019 at the Long Night of Science in Potsdam! See you all there!

The next QUEST workshop is coming soon at Waikato University: Workshop 2018

Flat whites, drip rates, and tramps


The excellent ‘flat white’ coffee of New Zealand is key for the success of the secondment.

By Bedartha Goswami

I arrived in Hamilton a month or so ago, around noon on 17 September. I met Adam at the University the next day and roughly speaking, a day later, on the 19th, we set out the approximate targets of my secondment: the estimation of the rates of dripping of cave drip water from speleothem measurements. Since then, Adam and I have tackled this problem from several angles. We discuss and then he sends me data sets and then I implement our ideas in code and then we discuss some more and we repeat this cycle. We make progress at times, and at times we get stuck. At all times though, we have managed to have intellectually stimulating conversations.

Adam also took me to the Waipuna cave on 26 September, which was an experience like I have never had before and has undoubtedly taken me a step closer to the topic of my codes. It has made me understand the minutiae of how drip waters form stalagmites better than before. (I will perhaps write my impressions of the Waipuna cave visit in another post). In general, my discussions with Adam have helped me get to know speleothems better, and also the processes involved in quantifying past climates using them.

Now, a few thoughts and impressions outside of work. This is my first trip to New Zealand, and I came here with a mind fairly bereft of preconceived notions. Only a rough idea of it being a paradise to almost everyone who talks about it, irrespective of whether they have actually been here before, or whether they are German or Indian. I have had an unforgettable stay thus far, and have encountered a warm and welcoming people who say “sweet man!” a lot. I’ve learnt to say “cheers ma’yt!” instead of “thanks” and have learnt to take a well made cup of ‘flat white’ coffee for granted. I’ve had Anzac biscuits and Afghan cookies  and mince pies and am looking forward to try out Manuka honey some time before I leave.

Tramping around (‘tramping’ = ‘hiking’ in local Kiwi-speak) with local tramping clubs have taken me through intense bush trails in the back country, and offered up a stark contrast to not only the North American-frontier style layout of the towns but also to undulating lush green farmland – the hallmark of the quintessential New Zealand landscape. At one of the viewpoints, I asked the man leading the tramp: “So all these meadows, do you think they were all forests before humans?” “Of course”, came the reply, “Before, it was only bush and bird.”

I’ve learnt to identify some of the native birds (Tui and Kereru) and some of the native trees (cabbage tree, Nikau Palm, Manuka, Kanuka, Rimu, Rewa Rewa). Perhaps before I leave, I will get a chance to see the skeleton of the Moa bird — killed to extinction for food by the Maori. I witnessed discussions on predatory pests being taken care of with ‘1080P’ poison pellets so that the birds don’t go extinct. I see a land precariously holding on to its natural heritage, and passionately fighting for it. I have learnt to admire the efforts understaffed “doc” (Dept of Conservation). To me, this place seems to have successfully held time at bay, slowing down its forward stride so as to enjoy life and nature for a few moments more.

QUEST research secondment from New Zealand to Cambridge

Between June and August 2018 I visited the Godwin Lab at the University of Cambridge as part of the QUEST project. This was an amazing, stimulating time for me where I learnt a lot and started some exciting work with Thomas Bauska and David Hodell. A new recruit to QUEST, PhD student Brittany Ward, also visited the lab overlapping with my visit and worked closely with Thomas in developing a new, fluid-inclusion isotope method for speleothems. The early results of Brittany’s work already look very promising and I received some very promising data from carbon and oxygen isotope analysis of a stalagmite record. The next step is to incorporate Ca isotopes and trace elements as proxies of local moisture availability.


Discussion article about a new vegetation proxy in speleothems and cave drip water published

Quest members from Mainz have published an article about the analysis of lignin oxidation products as vegetation proxies in speleothem and cave drip water samples in the discussion part of Biogeosciences. They developed a sensitive method to analyse the lignin composition of organic traces contained in speleothems. Lignin is a main constituent of woody plants and its composition contains information about the type of vegetation. This method offers new possibilities to reconstruct the vegetation of past millenia since it combines the advantages of lignin analysis as a highly specific vegetation biomarker with the benefits of speleothems as unique terrestrial climate archives.

Further reading:

Long Night of Science 2018

QUEST participated last year at the Long Night of Science – and it was a big success! This year we repeated and intensified our activities for the Long Night of Science in Potsdam and Berlin, and it was GREAT! As part of the “Climate Time Machine” exhibition Sebastian, Ola, and Norbert presented how we use stalagmites as palaeoclimate archives. To be better visible, we built a life-sized speleologist (cave researcher) and let him climb the stairways in the Michelson building (the main PIK building). We presented all the typical cave research stuff, caving gear, data loggers, surveying instruments, photographs of caves and active cave research, and selected stalagmite samples from our QUEST project. We received large interest, from interested researchers, parents and kids alike. The whole event was great fun and it was amazing to see that we can enthuse young pupils for our science. Science is much more than just numbers and computer models – and in our case really muddy, adventurous, and sportive.
Long Night of Science 2018

Long Night of Science 2018