Bath – Between the Romans, Art and Astronomy

Thanks to two lovely Scottish ladies I spent a wonderful day in Bath.  There’s so much to see and do that this was really just a taster. Foodwise, by the way, I can highly recommend Comptoir Libanais.

Bath is town full of art and a wide range of architecture. The most famous architectural style is Georgian, like the Circus. The city centre is a world heritage site.

Bath is also the only place in the UK with natural hot springs. It’s possible to go into one of the spas (which I didn’t), or to see how the old Romans did it (which I did). What I admired most at the baths in Bath, however, was a relic of Sulis Minerva, goddess of the hot springs.

My personal highlight was somewhat off the beaten track. Welcome to the Herschel house! Caroline and William Herschel were two astronomers who were famous for their telescopes with home-polished mirrors, and comet hunting. If you feel like walking in their footsteps, you can be a citizen scientist and help with one of the astronomy projects on the Zooniverse platform.


Dinosaur of the week: King Penguin

king-penguinToday is Penguin Awareness Day. So, I proudly present an Aptenodytes patagonicus. This one was wandering around South Georgia with lots of fur seals for company, plus tens of thousands of his/her own kind in the rookery. If you want to do something good for penguins you can go to and count them. It’s easy and fun!

Giving a talk

At some point last August, I was kindly asked by a friend and former student of mine, Milo, to consider giving a talk at an upcoming conference called Dell3i. It was supposed to be something akin to a TED-talk; and after a week or so of weighing pros and cons I decided to say yes.

I want to use this post to do two things: firstly, thank all the people involved who helped me preparing my talk, and secondly give some sources for some of the ideas I mentioned. The reason for the latter is that I drew on a lot of things I have heard and read or experienced over the years, but some people were particularly influential. And I should probably add that this is not a Dell-sponsored post.

So, thank you (in no particular order):

  • Daniel, Monika and Milo for the rehearsals
  • Astrid for a wonderful walk through Oxford
  • Mark for being a (mostly) willing victim
  • Rhiannon, Emily, Pavol, Eva, Barbora, David, Lucia and Alica for listening
  • my colleagues and students for encouraging me
  • Marcel for the book voucher (it’s been put to very good use)

If you’ve been following this blog for longer, you’ll know that I’m doing volunteer work for the citizen science platform Zooniverse. The two photos in the talk, about Galaxy Zoo and Penguin Watch, are copyright of those respective projects.

As mentioned in the talk, Yuval Harari‘s ideas from his book ‘Sapiens’ are fascinating. I took part in his MOOC a few years ago, and I hope he’ll do a similar project again in the future.

Other people whose blogs or books I’ve recently read or who I’ve heard speaking and who had some bearing on this talk were Richard Dawkins, Tayie Selasi, Ann Morgan and Tom Hart. Any factual errors are my own 🙂 .

Now, what was it like? As a teacher, I’m used to being in front of people (I’ve taught classes of 50+ students, tricky to ‘un-front’ that), but having an audience of 100+ and on top of that the cameras was a wee bit otherworldly. And exhilarating, I’ve got to admit. If you want to watch it:

Petermann Island

We reached the southernmost point of our journey at 65°10′S 64°10′W on Petermann Island. It was sunny, foggy and sunny again, almost no wind. Hence ideal conditions for our last landing to visit the, at the moment, also southernmost colony of Gentoo penguins. Gentoos marching

I’m saying at the moment, because in the wake of global warming Gentoos are moving further south, while Adelies and Chinstrap penguins lose out. Their numbers are apparently falling. More information can be found here: and of course you can help by identifying and counting penguins here: The rookery on Petermann is also part of the Zooniverse project! gentoo with pebble

There is still a number of Adelie penguins on the island yet, and they were also very active, bringing pebbles or trying to steal them and then running away.adelie thief

Proudly presenting their eggs.adelie egg

But not always paying attention, to the Skua’s delight. skua egg

Some of the eggs, to the tourists’ delight, had already hatched. adelie with young

Blue-eyed shags also breed on Petermann, and this time their nests were right amongst the penguins.

Shag callingThe shag chick seemed quite active, but the parent kept on sleeping.shag young

Well, sadly, we had to say goodbye.gentoo mountain I’d dearly love to come again.

A Visit to the Penguin Post Office

Port Lockroy – British history 64° south. If you are interested, their website is great: It’s a magnificent place to be, especially in sunshine. Base AMuseum The tiny island where it is located is also home to a Gentoo colony, and yes, part of the Zooniverse project The BBC made, helped by the people who work at the UK’s southernmost post office, a film about the place, aptly called ‘Penguin Post Office’. Watch it!

The penguins have one addition here to their life. They can, and sometimes do, stand to attention.flag

Or they just get on with pebbles and breeding.

It was really a gorgeous day, so we spent only a few minutes inside the quirky museum. Life as it used to be here, one of the people working there even turned on the old gramophone, playing Frank Sinatra, I think. Not entirely my time or music, but it was great fun. window

Again outside, we needed to be careful not to trip over the Snowy Sheathbills. snowy sheathbillThey were busy scavenging in the penguin poo. The Antarctic Skuas were trying to finish their acrobatic mating business, it looked successful.skua 1 skua 2

This must be the most wonderful post office to work in. I shall definitely keep that in mind as an option to come back here.mountain 1 mountains 2 mountains 3