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Pupil report: Science Department welcomes Professor Lewis Dartnell
Professor Lewis Dartnell, astrobiology researcher at the University of Westminster, visited Bryanston to deliver a series of workshops and lectures to physics pupils on topics including astrobiology, aliens and the workings of the mind.
As part of the Science Department’s SciSoc events, Professor Dartnell talked to us about the search for microbial life on Mars. Questions were posed including: ‘How does life begin and evolve?’ and ‘Does life exist elsewhere in the universe?’ and ‘What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?’ Professor Dartnell aimed to demonstrate that astrobiology is a fast-moving interdisciplinary field by answering these questions.
During the talk Dartnell explained that there are three main areas of research in astrobiology:
- Extremophiles, the study of which broadens our understanding of the conditions for life
- Robotic Exploration to search for life in hostile environments
- The search for Extrasolar Planets where life might exist.
Each of these areas help the search for extra-terrestrial life, however an unavoidable first question before launching into these areas of research is: ‘What is life?”
Discovering life on another planet would be a monumental achievement and have far-reaching consequences in many areas of life. It would prove that we are not unique and provide an excellent opportunity to study other forms of life, comparing the similarities and differences to life on earth.
As well as the fascinating Science Society lecture, I was also lucky to be invited to attend a workshop with Professor Dartnell during the day. In this workshop we worked as a group and were guided through questions designed to stretch our knowledge and apply it in different scenarios. We focused on methods that can be used to discover exoplanets such as the transit method, where you observe a planet pass in front of a star and observing the radial velocity of the star due to the gravitational pull of the planet.
We then worked through what deductions you can make about the planetary systems from the graphs and observations recorded. We continued to discuss how you would search for signs of life from a biological standpoint and how you could confirm that it was indeed life you had detected by creating potential experiments you could perform.
Both the workshop and the lecture were highly engrossing and enjoyable to attend and participate in and provided great insight into this new and exciting field of science. We would like to thank Professor Dartnell for coming in and creating a brilliant academic event for all.
By A3 pupil Elliott C