Community Impacts of Shale Gas

On Thursday 27th March, the Public Engagement Unit was involved in supporting a public lecture held by Professor Kathryn Brasier, from Pennsylvania State University. The lecture was part of UCLan’s Distinguished Visitor Programme which makes funds available to bring eminent people in their field over to UCLan. Professor Brasier’s lecture was entitled ‘Community and Economic Impacts of Shale Energy Development in the US: Research Summary and Considerations for the UK’ and was supported by UCLan’s Centre for Sustainable Development and Professor Joe Howe.

Prof Kathryn Brasier and Prof Joe Howe

Prof Kathryn Brasier and Prof Joe Howe

Obviously shale energy development is a big topic for the UK at the moment and especially for residents of Lancashire, as it is here (specifically around the Fylde coast) that some of the first shale energy development is being conducted. Commonly known as ‘Fracking’, this is a process that uses hydraulic pressure to horizontally fracture shale to release that natural gas that is held within it.

Last week, David Cameron was quoted as saying that the development of unconventional gas is good for the UK (paraphrased), but it is clear that there are many people that disagree with this. And there also seems to be a further large sector of the community that doesn’t really know what to think either way (myself included). It was on this point that Prof Howe (in his introduction of the lecture) called for an increase in research funding to enable further investigation into the impacts of shale energy development (‘fracking’), especially looking at the impact on local communities.

Professor Brasier introduced herself as a sociologist, whose research involved looking at how the developed shale energy industry in the US (especially around Pennsylvania, where the industry has been underway for some years) had affected communities in these areas. The point of the lecture was to look at how things had worked in the US, to see if we could then take considerations for how the industry could/would affect communities in the UK.

Specific points that Professor Brasier made included issues apart from those of the actual process of ‘fracking’ i.e. the approximately 2 week process of fracturing the shale the release the gas. She presented images of what the extraction sites actually looked like, with numerous large water tanks and massed heavy machinery and looked at how this had affected the local community e.g. the effect of heavy machinery on local roads and infrastructure.

Issues were also raised about how the local communities changed such as;

  • the effect of an influx of workers
  • increased locals jobs
  • the development of local commercial ‘hubs’, with ‘spokes’ out to the gas extraction sites
  • the juxtaposition between ‘shaleionaires’ (those who had sold the mineral rights of their land) and local unskilled workers
  • local inflation
  • the effect on local housing

There are also many concerns, both here and in the US, about the environmental impacts of the shale energy development industry, and it seems that this is something that hasn’t been fully researched. Professor Brasier’s work highlighted that in Pennsylvania the community feeling about the industry on the whole seemed to be a hope for better jobs juxtaposed with a concern about the natural environment and water quality; “This could be a good thing, if it’s done right”

The conclusion of Professor Brasier’s lecture called for an onus on public and community engagement within these shale energy development areas. The communities often had issues of trust with both the government and with the shale energy development companies, and that these issues arise long before the gas does. There also seems to be a lack of understanding of the process and that this is causing there to be a ‘rumour mill’ around the issue, with people seeming to be crying out for more information, but also to be involved in the production and dissemination of this information. Rather than simply preaching facts at the public, there is a requirement to truly engage with them. This does not necessarily mean formal consultation, nor does it necessarily mean protest. It’s about engaging with the public and community from the outset, as after the event the trust is gone, and finding new ways in which to involve and engage.

As the Public Engagement Unit at the University of Central Lancashire, this is something that we are committed to being part of.

Science Centre World Summit 2014

I’m Liz and I’ve just started in the Engage UCLan team. Over the next couple of years I’ll be doing lots of STEM activities and workshops with school students, as well as helping out with other public engagement projects.

Last week Jo and I were lucky enough to attend the Science Centre World Summit (SCWS) 2014, in Mechelen, Belgium. The conference brought together lots of interesting people from across the globe who worked in science centres, universities and other science communication and community-focused organisations. It was held in the rather awesome Technopolis. The science centre has an incredible range of interactive exhibits that communicate many areas of science, to all ages.

I may look like a giant here but I'm actually on a segway.

Jo and me at the conference: I may look like a giant here but I’m actually on a segway. That’s right – they had segways!

When we weren’t looking round the fab exhibits (we also got to see the largest dinosaur bones collection in Europe at the Museum of Natural Sciences in Brussels, who helped organise the conference), we got a chance to go to some really interesting talks on engaging different people with science.

One of the dinosaurs in the amazing collection

One of the dinosaurs in the amazing collection.

One of the sessions that stood out for me was about Maker culture and the Maker faires that are popping up around the globe. Jo and I had a go at some of the maker activities in a pop-up maker space and after a bit of a struggle with a soldering iron (I am not a natural) we managed to make some rather jazzy flashing badges.

My snazzy flashing badge.

Another session I particularly enjoyed was about the importance of science and learning with early-years children. It is amazing how much cognitive development takes place in the first few years of life and the session explored some of the ways you can engage young children with STEM to help them understand the world around them and develop critical thinking. There is a space in Technolopolis full of exhibits and activities for early-learners. Jo and I explored it and we got a little bit creative with the foam Lego.

Our giant foam Lego creation. It stands for Lancashire Science Festival.

Our giant foam Lego creation. It stands for Lancashire Science Festival.

SCWS 2014 was a great conference, with lots of really interesting sessions relevant to the work we do here at Engage UCLan. One of my favourite things about the summit was the warm and friendly atmosphere. There was a real feeling that it was a place you could openly discuss ideas, share best practice and explore collaboration. I’m sure the next summit in Japan 2017 will be just as good!

Take Part in the Lancashire Science Festival!

LSF 2014 Showfloor Call Out!


Calling all exhibitors for the Lancashire Science Festival 2014!

This year’s theme is Power Up! So we are looking for any interested parties to send us details of their ideas for their showfloor stands.

We have a maximum capacity of 20 stands on the showfloor and so will be judging all entries competitively. We are looking for stands that can really bring science to life, with fun and engaging hands-on activities.

The Lancashire Science Festival will be running from 26th to 28th June 2014; the 26th June being open to Primary Schools, the 27th to High School and Colleges and the 28th being a general public day, so we are looking for stands that will appeal to all ages and abilities.

The ethos behind the Lancashire Science Festival is to inspire people to think more about science and how it affects them and to encourage thought and debate, in a really fun atmosphere. As this year’s theme is Power Up we will be looking for stands that fit into this. Think along the lines of Power Your Brain and Recharge Your Batteries, Up Up and Away, Energy, The Power of Your Body, Engineering and The Power of IT. But don’t let this constrain you, think outside the box!

Please contact for an application form and ensure that all entries are returned by 31st January 2014, so that the selection process can begin.

The Sun at Night at BBC StarGazing Live

The Sun at Night

The Sun at Night

On Thursday 9th Jan, the Engage UCLan team were lucky enough to be invited to take the amazing art installation, The Sun at Night, down to one of the BBC’s StarGazing Live events at Royal Holloway University in Surrey.

The Sun at Night is a project devised by staff from The University of Central Lancashire; Artist in Residence, David Henckel and Lecturer in Music, Dan Wilkinson. It features a 4mx10m cylindrical, back-lit projection screen. This shows high resolution images of the sun, taken by the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory. A year’s worth of these images has been compressed into a 30 minute film that is projected whilst being slowly rotated around the circumference of the screen. The film is accompanied by a deep and sinister soundtrack that has been composed to mirror the images. The Sun at Night aims to explore our relationship with our closest star and to provide a new and creative way to disseminate the SDO’s research.

After a successful premiere in Preston’s Victorian Covered Market in November 2013, the installation came to the attention of the BBC who then invited us to take The Sun at Night to the live event that was accompanying the Stargazing Live TV show on Thursday 9th January. Obviously we were over the moon (to stick with the astronomical theme) about this, and so packed up the structure and our bags and made our way down to Surrey for the event.

The structure going up

The structure going up

The size of the structure does pose some issues, especially with the wind, but we took our anemometer and luckily the wind speed never exceeded our safe limit.

Jo checking the wind speed with our now beloved anemometer

Jo checking the wind speed with our now beloved anemometer

The set-up of the structure went really smoothly, with the help of some really amazing contractors from TouchLine Fabrications and a great projector from AtoV, and so come the arrival of the 4000+ public visitors we were ready for action.

Testing the projector as the light fell

Testing the projector as the light fell

Professor Robert Walsh, Dr Daniel Brown and other members of the UCLan Solar Group, Andrew Walker and Peter Zelina also came down for the event, so along with David, Dan, Jo and Jenny (when kitted out in our fabulous yellow hoodies) we were a swarm of Sun at Night commentators. We had some great discussions with the event attendees and a great time explaining to people exactly what The Sun at Night was and then letting conversation spark (along the lines of a Coronal Mass Ejection – we know all about those now!) from there.

The yellow hoodies – ready to tell you about The Sun at Night

Have a look at the video on for a taste of what the installation and event was like – in short…brilliant!

We are already looking forward to possibly taking The Sun at Night to the BBC Media City in Salford later this year and have also had interest from the production company that worked on the event to take it on a touring roadshow.

And the best bit….we got on the telly! At the beginning of Thursdays StarGazing Live show on BBC2 the Royal Holloway event was described as having ‘the most awesome projection of the sun’ and then the 3.5 million viewers were treated to a tantalising glimpse of The Sun at Night. Hooray!

The Sun at Night; get closer to our closest star

Tonight Engage UCLan present the Sun…at Night!

We are taking David Henckel’s installation piece to the BBC Stargazing LIVE show at Royal Holloway, University of London. The Sun at Night was created by Henckel during his residency with the solar astrophysics research group at UCLan. The installation showcases a year in the life of the Sun, with a movie created from footage from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. This is set to a evocative and sinister soundtrack, capturing the dynamics of our closest star and creating a truly unique and immersive experience. The scale of the structure, the high definition footage and the intricate detail of the solar footage creates an awe-inspiring piece.

Follow #thesunatnight for live images and information.

If you would like to bring The Sun at Night to your event, please contact Jenny, Public Engagement Assistant, on 01772 892596 or JBennion[@]

We are currently planning a tour of this unique piece and would be pleased to hear from venues and events interesting in hosting The Sun at Night.

The Sun at Night is the output of an 18 month residency during which Henckel worked with solar astrophysicists and engineers at UCLan. The final piece is a collaboration with artist and UCLan lecturer Dan Wilkinson.

Woody Guthrie: The Long Road to Peekskill

On Saturday night (30th November) I was lucky enough to see the wonderful Prof Will Kaufman presenting his live documentary, ‘Woody Guthrie: The Long Road to Peekskill’.

Will Kaufman

Will Kaufman

Along with 90 other members of the enthralled audience, we listened as Will (in his own words!) “blathered and sang” and took us back in time to the volatile political and racial tensions of America in the first half of the 20th Century. All as seen through the eyes, actions, art and most importantly the music of legendary American troubadour, Woody Guthrie.

Throughout the evening we followed Woody Guthrie’s journey from a youthful Oklahoma racist to the ardent anti-racist champion who, along with many others, risked his life holding the line against American fascism during the notorious Peekskill riots of 1949. At times Will’s passionate portrayal of the race hatred, lynching and fascism of the era brought, not only me, close to tears, but Will’s rousing finale of ‘All You Fascist’s Bound To Lose’ showed us that racists are not born, but made – and that they can be unmade.

As always it was a delight to work with Will. He a consummate professional, extraordinarily talented (it’s hard to believe that he only has 5 fingers on each hand when he’s playing the guitar!) and just generally one of the nicest people I’ve ever met – I was even lucky enough to get a ‘Will Kaufman Hug’ – they should be prescribed on the NHS!

This event was also a brilliant example of the talent that we have here at UCLan and how successful and appreciated it can be when we make this available to the public and community at large. Public Engagement is a doddle in cases like this!

ps. Will also introduced us to one of Woody Guthrie’s numerous children’s songs – ‘Taking Me Riding In The Car’ - now a firm family favourite in our house!

Plans Are Afoot For The Lancashire Science Festival 2014!

After the massive success of this summer’s Lancashire Science Festival, things are gearing up for an even bigger and better festival for 2014!

Next year’s theme is Power Up!!!!! And so we hope that you can join us as we Power Up for a 3 day celebration of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths.

Experience physics as never before through the power of rock and roll with Being 747; learn how to harness the power of your brain with UCLan Psychology experts; launch your imagination as we Power Up Up And Away; go digital and debate the use of drones and then recharge your batteries at Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails!

For 2014 we are also excited to welcome the Festival of the Spoken Nerd - see the power of sparkling wit meeting fascinating science in this comedy night for the insatiably sci-curious.

The main programme will be free of charge and open to primary schools on Thursday 26 June, Secondary Schools and Colleges on Friday 27 June and culminating with a general public day on Saturday 28 June.

Tickets for our evening acts; ‘The Festival of the Spoken Nerd’ and ‘Surgical Sprit: The Science of Cocktails’ will be on sale soon.