Thursday, 31 July 2014

New lab to unravel the mysteries of Earth and life

On Thursday July 17th, Drs Aubrey Zerkle and Mark Claire held a grand opening for their new geobiology laboratory space in the Bute building. Approximately 40 members of staff from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences were in attendance, as the laboratory was formally christened the "Peter James Clark Centre for Philosophical Geobiology".

The interdisciplinary laboratory will be dedicated to studying the links between geochemistry and biology over Earth history, as evidenced in modern environments and recorded in the rock record.
 In just two weeks’ time, the lab already has in excess of 15 occupants, including post-doctoral researcher Gareth Izon and PhD student Colin Mettam, who are working with the PIs on a NERC-funded project to unravel the interplay between biological forcing and atmospheric chemistry recorded in 2.5 billion year old sediments from South Africa and Western Australia.

It is also supporting a host of undergraduate researchers starting dissertation projects and summer internships on a wide range of cross-disciplinary projects, including:
  • geochemistry of Mars analog soils from the Atacama desert (Chile), 
  • sulfur cycling in Earth’s oldest well-preserved microbial mats, 
  • nutrient cycling in redox-stratified Lake Kinnert (Israel), and 
  • paleoenvironmental characterization of the world’s first phosphorite deposits (  Exciting stuff! 
    Nicolette Meyer (Geology undergraduate) distilling sulfur
    from 2.6 billion-year-old pyritized microbial mats
    Gareth Izon (right) solving the mysteries of the Neoarchean
    atmosphere and Mark Claire (left) extracting atmospheric salts in
    soils from the driest place on Earth (the Atacama Desert)
The somewhat whimsical name for the lab was chosen to honour Professor Peter Clark, retired Professor of Philosophy and member of the Principal's office, whose efforts were instrumental in pushing the long-awaited project forward. "We will attempt to learn from the philosophers by always asking ourselves and our students to contemplate the larger meaning of our scientific results," said Co-PI Dr Mark Claire upon unveiling the plaque above the door. Dr Tony Prave, Reader in Earth Sciences and Director of Research for the department was also recognized during the short ceremony for his continued support and inspiration.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

New Fellow of the British Acacdemy

Congratulations to Professor Stephen Halliwell FRSE, Professor of Greek, in the School of Classics, who has been elected as a Fellow of the British Academy. At its Annual General Meeting on July 17, the British Academy elected 42 highly distinguished UK academics from 19 universities as Fellows, in recognition of their outstanding research. Prof. Halliwell's research interests range widely across the interpretation of ancient Greek literature (especially drama) and philosophy (especially Plato and Aristotle), as well as the influence of Greek ideas on later periods of Western culture. He has given invited research papers in 17 countries and four languages. Two of his books have won major international prizes.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Sweeping success at British Archaeological Awards

Projects run by Jo Hambly, Ellie Graham and Tom Dawson of the School of History have won in two of the five categories at the prestigious, biennial British Archaeological Awards 2014, with a third project being Highly Commended. Tom picked up the awards at a ceremony in the British Museum on Monday 14th July, collecting the award for Best Archaeological Innovation for their ShoreUPDATE app from TV presenter and gastronome, Loyd Grossman; and the award for Best Community Engagement Archaeology Project for the Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk Project from Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Culture, Ed Vaizey. Their Wemyss Caves 4D website (, developed with the Save Wemyss Ancient Caves Society and the York Archaeological Trust, was Highly Commended in the Best Public Presentation of Archaeology category.

ShoreUPDATE app:  An app and interactive website that presents the results of 15 years of survey and research at the coast, allowing individuals to access and correct data on the coastal heritage in their area and add additional information that updates the project database. Visit the interactive map of sites at risk:
Scotland's Coastal Heritage at Risk Project ( SCAPE developed the Scotland Coastal Heritage at Risk Project so that researchers could involvethe public to more effectively tackle the important national issue of coastal erosion. The team's philosophy is that eroding coastal heritage provides opportunities for everyone to enjoy and benefit from taking part in archaeological and historical exploration and discovery. 
Wemyss Caves 4D (  The Wemyss Caves in Fife contain the highest number of Pictish carvings in the world. Cutting edge digital recording and interpretation of the caves and carvings has made them accessible to all. Start your journey of discovery here.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

A boring billion years of Earth evolution

Research led by Profs Peter Cawood and Chris Hawkesworth of the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences has shown that Earth’s middle age (from 1.7 to 0.75 billion years ago) was characterised by relative environmental stability with little crust-building activity, no major fluctuations in atmospheric composition and few substantial changes in the fossil record. In contrast more volatile events such as major ice ages and changes in oxygen levels occurred before and after.

The study suggests that gradual cooling of the Earth's crust over time may have been the cause of this middle age stability. Prof. Cawood is quoted: "Before 1.7 billion years ago, the Earth's crust would have been substantially hotter, meaning that continental plate movement may have been governed by different rules to those that operate today; 0.75 billion years ago, the crust reached a point where it had cooled sufficiently to allow modern-day plate tectonics to start working, in particular allowing subduction zones (where one plate of the crust moves under another) to form. This increase in activity could have kick-started a myriad of changes including supercontinent break-up and changes to levels of key elements in the atmosphere and seas, which in turn may have induced evolutionary changes in the life forms present."

The research was presented at Goldschmidt 2014 in Sacramento, California, USA. [Abstract]

“Earth's middle age”, Cawood, P. A. & Hawkesworth, C., 2014, Geology; doi: 10.1130/G35402.1 [Article]

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Silencing of the crickets: rapid evolution in response to deadly flies

Scientists in the School of Biology, along with researchers from Edinburgh and the USA, have have published a new study on the rapid evolution of wild crickets from predominantly loud, chirping males to silent males in approximately one decade on two islands in Hawaii. Typically, male crickets attract females with their songs by rubbing their wings, which have a sound-producing file and scraper, together. However, parasitic flies use the sound of male songs to find the crickets and deposit baby maggots on their backs. The maggots burrow in and eat the crickets alive as they grow.

Some male crickets in Hawaii have silenced their songs because of a mutation that erases the file and scraper on their wings. Interestingly, these ‘flatwing’ mutations have happened independently, about two years apart, on both the islands of Kauai and Oahu. This convergent evolution is rarely observed at such evolutionary speed in the wild and is an excellent opportunity to look at this phenomenon in its earliest stages. The team, including Dr Sonia Pascoal, Prof. Michael Ritchie, and Dr Nathan Bailey, next hope to identify the mutations responsible for the changes.
[Full article:]BBC News story]


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Pop Paolozzi! A series of prints based on the life and work of Edinburgh’s most renowned transnational artist

Transnationalizing Modern Languages: Mobility, Identity and Translation in Modern Italian Cultures

The Proctor, Professor Lorna Milne, will formally welcome pupils from Drummond Community High School, who produced artwork for this exhibition based on the work of Paolozzi.

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) is one of the UK’s most outstanding modern artists. Born in Leith, the son of first generation Italian migrants, Paolozzi was interned in 1940 when Italy entered WW2. He later studied art in Edinburgh and London before moving to Paris. He established a reputation on a global scale as sculptor and major figure in the Pop Art movement.

The work that will be on display has been produced by S1 pupils at Drummond Community High School, Edinburgh, very close to where Paolozzi grew up. The pupils researched Paolozzi’s own transnational experience to produce prints expressive of both his Italian-Scots childhood and fascination with the modern, mechanical world. The eight prints in the exhibition were created by the artists at Edinburgh Printmakers, sponsored by SNIPEF (Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers Association), whose main office is close to the school. The exhibition is the first public event of the AHRC-funded research project exploring Italian culture outside Italy in a transnational frame.

Today! 27 May, 12 - 1.30pm, Arts Lecture Theatre Foyer. All welcome!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Professor James Naismith appointed FRS - Congratulations!

Congratulations to Prof. James Naismith, of the School of Chemistry and Director of Biomedical Sciences Research Complex, who was recently elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society (FRS). Prof. Naismith is cited by the Royal Society for his stunning structural and chemical dissection of the many proteins involved in natural product recognition, synthesis and export. His work has revealed new paradigms in the recognition of nucleic acids and carbohydrates, unveiled novel chemical mechanisms for enzymatic nucleophilic substitution and addition and provided the first views, both structural and dynamic, of polysaccharide export systems in bacteria. His work is characterised by a synthesis of three-dimensional structural understanding with profound chemical insight.

The Royal Society, the oldest scientific society in the world, recently announced 50 new Fellows and 10 Foreign Members. Election to FRS is considered one of the greatest achievements that can be bestowed on a scientist.