Thursday, 19 December 2013

H2FC Supergen conference

My week started by going to the H2FC Supergen Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Researcher Conference. Running from Monday afternoon to Wednesday morning, the conference was jam packed with a variety of research presentations on a range of topics. As well as some great research, there were a number of really interesting keynote speakers and these will be the main focus of this post. 

Professor Nigel Brandon began the conference by reminding us of the benefits of using hydrogen fuel cells: their efficiency, the fact that they don't produce particulates and the flexibility given by the variety of hydrogen production methods. He concluded that research into cleaner hydrogen production will be necessary to ensure that a future containing hydrogen fuel cells will be sustainable. 

Monday evening hosted a lively panel discussion between some really very inspiring early career researchers. Dr. Greg Offer, Dr. Valeska Ting (@DrValeskaTing), Dr. Dennis Krammer and Dr. Paul Shearing were each given the stage for 10 minutes to talk about their route into academia and any tips they had for us sitting in the audience who might want to do the same. The passion and drive that these four exhibited during the short session made it clear that their lectureships were well earned! We were encouraged to aim high, to take networking seriously and (obviously!) to publish as much as possible. The range of pathways exhibited amongst the panel showed that failure does happen, and that a "Plan B" can come in very handy... 
Huge thanks to all the members of the panel - it was a really useful session!

Tuesday began with Dr. Mark Selby from Ceres Power. He encouraged the development of links between academia and industry through better listening, reminding us that companies do not want to make problems with their industry public, even if they do have a whole team of researchers working to solve them. Following on from the career session the previous evening, he advised us to be clear about what we do and don't know and to seize opportunities that fit our values. 
The second industrial keynote of Tuesday was Jane Patterson from Ricardo (@Ricardo_AEA), who gave an excellent presentation on the importance of applied research. 

After a great conference dinner at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground, the hall was looking emptier for the final day. However, it was well worth staying until the end for Dr. Kerry-Ann Adamson's (@KerryAnnEnergy, Navigant Research) "Wake Up Call" for the clean tech industry. As well as tips on which countries to target for future research opportunities, we were warned to beware of the word "optimal" and of presenting technologies and not solutions. Finishing on the very positive note that this is likely to be the most exciting time to be working in energy research, Kerry-Ann woke us all up and left us with something to think about. 

Overall, it was a really interesting and varied conference with some great sessions: thanks to all the organisers and presenters!!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


I have recently discovered a new organisation called ClimateSnack. It's awesome!

ClimateSnack encourages researchers to translate their exciting climate research from academic speak into easily digestible "snacks" perfect for reading over a cup of tea.

The motivation behind ClimateSnack is to develop the skills of early stage researchers in climate science in writing for a general audience. Currently there are groups in Bergen and Imperial universities, and I am in the process of starting up a group at the University of Birmingham with the help of a post-doc in the geography department. 

The groups work as follows:
  • A couple of group members draft an article ("snack") on a climate science topic of their choice.
  • Before the meeting (they happen once a month), the snacks get sent round the group for everyone to read.
  • When the group meets, the authors begin by reading their snack out loud to the group.
  • The rest of the group give their comments and feedback.
  • The authors go back to their laptops and finish off the snack. They then get their articles published on the ClimateSnack website.
  • International ClimateSnackers can then also read the snack and give feedback to the authors.
  • After receiving the feedback, the snackers can then put what they have learnt into practice and write another snack!

This cycle is an excellent way for researchers to develop their writing skills. Not only can you test run sections of your thesis introduction, student newspaper articles or blog posts; but by reading through other people's work you learn a phenomenal amount about what it is like to read work from a different field to yours. The process of giving feedback is also important in an academic environment, and ClimateSnack gives a great environment in which to practise. 

ClimateSnack treats writing for a wider audience the same as learning a new language: the ability to go through the ClimateSnack cycle a number of times brings the much needed repetition and an excellent way to track progress. The barrier to publishing your work online is broken down by the ability to test run the article before you make the (terrifying!) jump of putting yourself 'out there'.

For those group members who don't even know where to start, ClimateSnack offers online courses which are excellent. These are definitely worth a watch!

I introduced the concept of ClimateSnack to UoB researchers at the last graduate school "TGS Fridays" event and it went down pretty well! Looks like we will have a group ready for an inaugural meeting in January, which is great news. 

If you are a researcher in climate science at Birmingham and want to find out more information then get in touch @RDscience or via the comment box below.

For more information visit the ClimateSnack website, and/or follow @ClimateSnack on twitter.