Student receives award for science communication

A Plymouth University student is to receive a prestigious national award in recognition of her work to proactively generate interest in geology and the sciences.

Hazel Gibson, currently working on a PhD examining the public perception of geology, will be presented with the Charles Lyell Award by the British Science Association (BSA).

She will receive her accolade during the annual British Science Festival, which this year is being held from September 7-10 in Bradford, where she will also give a lecture about her research.

The BSA awards aim to recognise promising early career scientists, and previous winners have included Professor Brian Cox, Richard Wiseman and Maggie Aderin-Pocock.

Hazel graduated from the BSc (Hons) Physical Geography and Geology course at Plymouth University in 2005, before going to work overseas, as an Engineering Geologist in Australia.

She then moved to the United States to work as a ranger in the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington State, giving guided tours of its active volcano, before returning to the UK and working in the education and identification departments of the Natural History Museum London.

Hazel said:

“I am very proud to receive this award, as science communication is one of my real passions. I have always been really interested in how people talk about the sciences, especially geoscience and for my current research, I am using elements of cognitive psychology to explore that further. By drawing attention to how we think about what’s below our feet, I hope that my research will help improve discussions about controversial geological topics. This award recognises the value and importance of science communication which, in my opinion, has to be a combination of enthusiasm and accuracy.”

Hazel’s award lecture during the British Science Festival will carry the title ‘The Invisible World Below Your Feet: Fracking, Geology and You’.

She will be speaking about her research on how people perceive and understand the geological subsurface and how, by improving the way we communicate, we can discuss controversial geological issues more effectively.

Professor Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at Plymouth University, nominated Hazel for the award and is one of her PhD supervisors, alongside Dr Sabine Pahl from the University’s School of Psychology. He said:

“The subsurface is this hidden world that seems very familiar to geologists but is a strange, almost alien underworld to almost everyone else. This sense of it being ‘out of sight, out of mind’, fuels some of the fears and concerns that individuals and communities have about our activities down there – issues like geothermal energy, disposal of nuclear waste and, of course fracking for shale gas. Hazel’s research is really helping to reveal just how big the perception gap is between geologists and the public, and this lecture is the perfect opportunity to showcase that.”