Graduation Party July 2018

Biological Sciences Graduation Party Group Photographs
Monday 16th July 2018
Life Sciences Building

Photographs by Sue Holwell

Festival of Nature 2018

Millennium square was a hive of activity on the 9th and 10th June as more than 50 enthusiastic organisations put on free events, including exhibitions, workshops and talks, to celebrate the broad topic of nature. Since the festival was first established in 2003, organisations such as the Avon Wildlife Trust, Bristol Zoo and, of course, the University of Bristol, have been chosen to inspire and educate the many who attend.

Despite the upbeat vibe and general excitement caused by the event, a serious message concerning the negative impact humans are having on the world could be found hidden amongst the majority of the activities. Perhaps where this message was portrayed most prominently was in a sculpture of a diesel soot particle which was three million times larger than the actual size. This new artwork, aptly named ‘Inhale’ and created by Luke Jerram, stood as a poignant reminder to all about what humans are breathing in as a result of air pollution.

‘Inhale’ by Luke Jerram.

Air pollution can cause damage to the lungs, leading to shortness of breath. The focus was on the fact that breathing is not just an important body function, the air within our lungs can be used to sing, speak and laugh, therefore, it is important to aid expression of human emotion and to communicate. A collaboration between Prof. Jane Macnaughton from Durham University and Prof. Havi Carei from the University of Bristol has led to a five-year research project funded by the Wellcome Trust called ‘Life of Breath’. It is hoped that an exploration of the use of breath in the arts, humanities, social sciences and medicine will aid people to live well with breathlessness. Members of the team were present at the festival, encouraging visitors to explore and learn more about their own lungs.

Testing lung capacity with ‘Life of Breath’. Photo by Adam Beddoe.

Through the provision of lively, interactive demonstrations, visitors discovered that their height was positively correlated to the capacity of their lungs. Participants were asked to fill their lungs with air, which when blown into a container would displace the water inside. When the participant could no longer blow air out of their lungs, the degree to which the water level had fallen indicated the capacity of the individual’s lungs. This data point was then added to a chart plotting lung capacity against the participant’s height. After a few hours, a positive correlation between the two variables emerged.

CO2 and methane are other examples of air pollutants and are also well-known greenhouse gases. It is thought that approximately one-third of greenhouse gases come from agriculture. For example, nitrous oxide is produced naturally in soils, methane is produced by animals as they digest their food, and the use of fossil fuels in agriculture production releases CO2. The pollution in the atmosphere is also increased by the destruction of large carbon sinks such as woodlands. Farming practices and the fragmentation of woodlands has taken a heavy toll on wildlife, such as dormice, as their habitats are progressively destroyed.

However, how can we encourage younger generations, which are arguably more disconnected from the benefits of nature than any other generation before, to protect the environment? One solution is to educate them and endeavour to show the beauty and inspiration that can be found in nature. This festival encouraged and inspired those that attended in a multitude of ways to do just that.

Pressing plants with Bristol Museum.

Parents could be seen throughout the festival encouraging their children to take an interest in local wildlife. The Bristol Museum enabled visitors to look at their plant fossils and herbariums and to press their own plants in order to explore how they were preserved two hundred years ago. Participants would then be helped to identify the plant that they had pressed.

Bristol Zoo used creative methods to encourage visitors to identify wildlife that could be found in the Avon Gorge and Downs. Children were asked to choose a mask from a choice of billy goats, peregrine falcons, butterflies, badgers and the Bristol onion. Tactfully, the Bristol Zoo staff would ask which mask the children wanted by interjecting interesting facts about each species; “Peregrine falcon; the fastest animal in the world which travels at over 200mph!” or “Bristol onion; only found in the Avon Gorge in the whole of the UK!” were facts told to excite the participants. Inspiration for their artistic creations were found from nature, for example, they would study different species of butterfly to inspire their designs. When they were finished, their creations would be made into masks for them to wear.

Butterfly masks with Bristol Zoo.

The Wildlife Trust encouraged visitors to ‘give it a go’ themselves. The team spoke to children concerning the decline in the number of dormice and the work being done to capture and reintroduce this species into woodland. Examples of dormice nests and cracked nuts were shown so that the visitors could spot when dormice were present in a woodland as well. One way in which the presence of dormice could be noticed is by how they cracked open the nuts. Members of the wildlife trust spoke enthusiastically about the ‘chief nutter’, the man who first learnt to distinguish how a nut opened by a dormouse was different from a nut opened by any other species; teeth marks of dormice are across the edge of the opening of a nut, like a chisel.

Bristol Zoo took a similar approach; children participated in a ‘peregrine chick checking’ activity. Toy baby Peregrine Chicks had been made that were the approximate weight of a real chick. Young participants would measure the beak, head and wing using callipers, then weigh and ring the bird. Using the information obtained, they could then determine whether the chick they were checking was male or female, as female peregrine falcons are heavier than males.

Sophie Pavelle; wildlife presenter.

Critical decisions must be made to prevent the destruction of our planet, however, the choices made often come at a cost. The lively and interactive clouded leopard play that took place enabled the audience to vote in order to make decisions regarding the conservation of the clouded leopard and its home. This encouraged the audience to weigh up the benefits and costs of a decision and decide what they would do in realistic dilemmas. One situation that arose was the deforestation of the forest that the leopard lived in; this would have benefited the economy as crops could be grown there and the wood from the trees could be used by the locals as fuel, however, it would have destroyed the leopard’s habitat. Despite the immediate benefits to the local community, it was interesting that the audience often voted to save the leopard’s habitat.

Clouded leopard play cast. Photo by Adam Beddoe.

There are many organisations actively working to restore nature across Britain; the green forum tent was a place for them to advertise their ideas and motivate visitors to aid them in their efforts to make a difference. The ‘Blue Campaign’ asked for visitors to allow part of their lawn to grow naturally to encourage an abundance of new life into that area, ‘Feel Good Food, Feel Good Farming’ supports sustainable agriculture and local produce, and ‘Shared Interest’ provide fair finance to fair trade farmers and handcraft makers across the globe. The ‘Shape Our City’ stall advertised their creative engagement project named ‘Our City Our Health’. This project involves a collaboration between UWE, UPSTREAM researchers and Bristol citizens who are trying to understand what changes should be prioritised in their aim to achieve healthy urban development.

The prominent sculpture, created by Jerram, was part of the UWE Bristol public engagement project; this succeeded at sparking conversations about how we could shape our future for the better. All in all, visitors went away with at least a few wishes about what they would like to change in order to improve the environment we live in. UWE had put up a wishing tree on which visitors wishes were written; “more allotments please”, “more street trees please”, “green walls on buildings” and “more community food-sharing events”; all ideas full of hope for a world that is greener, more diverse and more sustainable than it is right now.

UWE wishing tree. Photo by Adam Beddoe.

Written by Lydia Rowland


Second Year Field Course

Some amazing photos by Luke Leckie on the second year coastal ecology field course in Orielton, Pembrokeshire.

The students visited Skomer Island, home to thousands of puffins as well as atlantic seals, fulmar, chough, bluebells, campion, sea slugs, porpoise, dolphin, sun fish and so much more.

Find out more about Skomer Island here

Nature Xposed

Welcome one and all to Nature Xposed

The show which aims to make you think about the natural world just that little bit differently. Behavioural and freshwater ecologists Benito and Amy are here to give you something to contemplate over your cornflakes, every Friday at 10am on Burst Radio or listen to the regular podcasts on Mixcloud.

Benito’s Explanations

YouTube videos from Mr Benito Wainwright – Behavioural Ecology and Animal Colouration.

During Benito’s undergrad, he created a whole series of revision videos which covered content from entire university modules too!

More links:


Life After a Postgraduate Degree

Life After a Postgraduate Degree

Alumni Careers Evening

Less than 8% of entry level PhD students end up as tenured academics1, so what do students do after gaining their PhD? What career options are there? The Life Sciences Building held a careers event featuring talks from five University of Bristol alumni to find the answers. Each speaker completed a postgraduate research degree at the University of Bristol and shared their diverse stories of going from postgraduate students to embarking on their careers. They shared their personal experiences on how the skills they learnt throughout their degrees helped them get to where they are today and gave advice on what you can do to achieve your post-research degree career. We also spoke to current postgraduate students at the subsequent networking session about their thoughts on the talks and plans for their own careers.

The first talk of the evening was from Dr Kate Pressland. Kate did a Zoology Bachelor’s degree at Bristol where she particularly enjoyed the field course to Portugal, as this included a lot of species identification. After this, Kate secured a job in Professor Jane Memmot’s group on a field survey project which required a lot of attention to detail and patience. After this contract, she grabbed a PhD opportunity that arose, investigating pheasants as a non-native species. Kate learnt an important lesson while conducting her PhD research: that game keepers or farmers don’t read academic papers but will listen to people who actually talk to them about practises that may benefit them. Kate found this aspect interesting and wanted to work with practitioners in this way. After her PhD, Kate worked for the Avon Wildlife Trust running a wetland conservation project, and is now responsible for managing Innovative Farmers, a farmer-led research programme run by the Soil Association. Kate advises maximising your transferable skills throughout your PhD in order to make you adaptable to job opportunities that may arise, and being open to various job options, such as working for charities.

Dr Kate Pressland

The next speaker was Dr Celia Duff-Farrier, who completed her Biology undergraduate degree and her PhD in Agricultural Biotechnology in the School of Biological Sciences. Celia then took on a short Postdoctoral position in the same lab, with Prof Gary Foster. After this, Celia left academia and went on to undertake the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP), allowing her to retrain as a Healthcare Scientist in Genomics. The STP is a three-year training programme that trains the individual as a clinical scientist and also provides an MSc qualification. It includes a research project and also an elective project, where Celia went to Brazil to observe private healthcare practices. Celia said that although she initially began her career working in plants, genetics underpins everything, so it is possible to move away from what you originally start working in; however it does require retraining among people who are a lot more knowledgeable about the subject. The working environment is also very different to research labs in a university.

Dr Celia Duff Farrier

Thirdly, Dr Ana Castro-Castellon spoke about her career in water quality. Ana grew up in Colombia, and then moved to Spain, where she undertook her undergraduate degree in biological sciences. She became interested in microbiology and parasitology and moved to the UK to work as a Regional Biologist for Wessex Water. Ana encountered an environmental issue which deserved further research and, so, decided to undertake an MSc with Prof Marian Yallop and Prof Paul Hayes at Bristol, performing research in the area of Ecosystems and Environmental Change. After this, Ana took the opportunity of completing a PhD in Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of Oxford. Following this, she joined Thames Water as a Process Scientist. Her current role ensures that the water we drink meets the regulatory criteria to protect public health and the environment. When pursuing a career, Ana believes that it is important to do something that genuinely matters to you because this gives you the energy to progress in your career. Furthermore, Ana advises to take as many opportunities as you can while you are within a role, in order to grow and move on to the next stage in your career.

Dr Ana Castro Castellon

The penultimate speaker was Dr Anna Tiley. Anna graduated from the University of Oxford in 2011, she then undertook an internship at Kew Gardens before starting her PhD. Anna’s PhD was carried out in the Molecular Plant Pathology and Fungal Biology group at the University of Bristol – supervised by Dr Andy Bailey and Prof Gary Foster, and was part of the BBSRC South West Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership (SWBio DTP). As part of this PhD studentship, Anna completed a three-month internship at the Royal Society of Biology. After finishing her PhD, Anna secured a Postdoctoral Researcher role based in the Molecular Plant Pathology lab at University College Dublin (UCD) in Ireland. Anna intends on staying within academia by securing a fellowship and has research interests abroad. Anna believes in the importance of being a well-rounded scientist, her suggestions to postgraduate students for being successful include: attending conferences to present research and network, take on opportunities to teach, join societies and apply for internships and travel grants.

Dr Anna Tiley

The final speaker was Dr Karen Varnham. Karen was inspired by a lecture on invasive species during her Behavioural Ecology Masters at Manchester Metropolitan. This led to Karen becoming a self-employed, self-titled, rat-catcher, removing invasive rats from islands where they were causing ecological problems. Feeling she was not yet done taking exams, Karen undertook a PhD as a mature student in Bristol, supervised by Jane Memmott in the Community Ecology Group. After completing her PhD, she worked in the LSB Admin Office for a year, before taking up her current role with the RSPB as their Island Restoration Officer. This role involves advising people within and outside the organisation on best practice methods for removing invasive species and preventing them from becoming established in the first place, as well as training, report writing and developing new projects. Her current job is mainly desk-based but includes enough visits to islands to keep her happy. Whilst she enjoyed being self-employed, Karen believes that working for a larger organisation gives her the opportunity to make a greater impact. Karen said that although a PhD was not essential for her current role, it gave Karen vital background understanding of her job, and improved her technical writing skills.

Dr Karen Varnham

After the talks, a networking session was held in the Life Sciences Skylounge to give students the opportunity to chat with the speakers. General feedback from the audience was how much they enjoyed hearing about the diverse range of career opportunities there are post-PhD. One student said: “although there were only a handful of talks, they are all in different fields, I hadn’t heard of any of these job roles before, so we have been opened to diversity”. Furthermore, for those students who had an idea of what they would like to do, hearing from more people in those fields gave them reassurance: “I’m thinking about working for a charity, and it is nice to know that those working for charities felt valued and it has given me more confidence in the direction I would like to go in”. Overall, this was a fantastic opportunity for postgraduate students to hear from those who have previously been in their situation, to hear how they managed to get to where they are today, and, importantly, provide the students with tips and advice in order to achieve their career goals. Although many students coming to the end of their post-graduate studies are still unsure of what they would like to do next, this event has provided some advice on how they can set themselves up to be in the best possible situation, with many transferrable skills, to ensure they are considered for job opportunities. It is also worth noting that further information for Bristol postgraduates can be found from the Careers Service.

Written by Fiona Belbin and Grace Fraser

Plant Science Outreach- Meiosis and the Generation of Variation

Plant Science Outreach- Meiosis and the Generation of Variation

Plant science is a fundamental area of research at the University of Bristol. The School of Biological Science recently hosted an outreach event on the 9th and 10th of May which communicated the BBSRC funded project “Releasing natural genetic variation in wheat by modulating meiotic crossovers” to 60 school students from around Bristol, arousing their curiosity and interest in plant science and genetics.

Meiosis, captured under the microscope.

The event involved a day-long introduction to meiosis and recombination. Project partners were invited, including Dr Stuart Desjardins from the University of Leicester and Prof Chris Franklin, Dr Eugenio Sanchez-Moran and Dr Kim Osman from the University of Birmingham. From Bristol, Dr Helen Harper, Dr Mark Winfield, Dr Lucy Hyde, Dr Amanda Burridge and Prof Keith Edwards. Prof Edwards made a strong impression on the students, with one student stating that the highlight of the day was ‘hearing Prof Edwards talk.’

Prof Keith Edwards displaying protoplasts from the florescent microscope

Aside from talks, there were videos, experiments and games, all of which brought the project to life for the students and allowed them an insight into life at the university. With a wide variety of activities, it’s no wonder the event was popular with the students’ teachers too. Afterwards, 88% of students said they understood that increasing the genetic variation of crop plants was important for food security and another 94% of students said that, as a result of taking the course, their knowledge of meiosis had increased.

Students viewing their slide under the microscope.

The event was a great success, with teachers commenting that they would like to repeat the event in the coming years, and students saying how it had informed and inspired them and that they really enjoyed the experiments and using the equipment in University labs. It was agreed the event was a great way to stretch and challenge students and encourage them to seek an understanding of current topics, including gene edited crops and why this technology is important.

Students enjoying the teaching labs at the University of Bristol

Students were not sent away empty handed, but were given a course handbook covering the work and research discussed during the workshop. This event may have inspired a future generation of geneticists and plant scientists, and shows the importance of outreach programmes in ensuring the future of this research.

Course Handbook

Written by Cara Doyle

A Day in the Life: Head of School

Day in the Life interview with Head of School Professor Mike Benton

Professor Mike Benton
  • What do you normally do before work?

My ideal breakfast would be a kipper or a haggis, but I don’t usually get that I must admit, so a leisurely breakfast where I read the paper, do the crossword and come to work.

  • What is the first thing that you do when you arrive at the LSB?

I kill emails when I arrive. There are usually around 50 emails that have come in, I get these down very quickly, so I apologise to anybody if they have sent an email first thing, I just skim past it with all the spam and all the other stuff that comes through. I then look through my diary to see what is coming up and prepare for meetings, lectures and things like that.

  • Briefly, describe a typical day at work and any interesting things to point out that other members of staff may not know.

It is very difficult to say, and I think everybody will say that there is no such thing as a typical day.

I manage to keep some days clear for research. It is a huge pleasure to be able to get on with projects such as working on mass extinctions, dinosaurs, and all the things I love to do. I often speak to students, masters and PhD’s to find out how they are getting on and to help with their writing, planning, booking visits to museums and those kinds of things.

But at the moment being head of the department I attend a lot of meetings and I have to ask people what on earth all these meetings are. I try to delete as many of them as I can, I go to things and sit there and wonder why I am there sometimes, but there is often an opportunity to speak up for the School of Biological Sciences, so I always do that.

  • What is your favourite part of the day?

I guess my favourite part of the day is after 17:00 because then things become quiet. If you stay on until 18:00 then that is an hour without meetings and without people knocking on the door, a very good moment.

  • Tell us an interesting fact about yourself?

Because I do a lot of fieldwork in China, I go to China maybe once or twice a year and of course being polite one eats what one is given so I have eaten a variety of turtles or terrapins I suppose they are. The most unusual thing I have had to eat was a bit of the larynx of a cow which was a bit like eating a sort of faintly meaty plastic.

  • What is your favourite way to spend your weekends/favourite hobbies?

At the weekend I love to be in my garden which has lots of trees. I love climbing around in the trees when my wife is out and trimming them and cutting the huge hedges, and generally just gardening is a nice fun thing to do.

  • If you could go to any place in the world, where would you go?

I would love to go to Antarctica sometime, I have never been there, and I think many people would say the same. I suppose it is kind of easier to get to every other continent and I have been to every other continent as it happens, but Antarctica would be fun. It’s cold and full of penguins – what could be better than that?

  • Finally, tell us why you love working here!

Well, I love working at the University of Bristol in the Life Sciences building, because you can do what you like. I just love it. I come and go when I like and do what I like and I am getting paid to do my hobby; it’s fantastic.