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O. T. who?

Pres Des Bryan Lovell gets his hands (briefly) on the Team Trophy

Ted Nield visits Cardiff to watch geology students from six Welsh schools face some tough questioning at the South Wales Regional Group’s first Schools Geology Challenge.

Geoscientist 20.05 May 2010

My heart went out to the thirty or so young competitors (from years 12 and 13, in six teams), as they faced a question to which the answer was “O T Jones”; but this was, I reminded myself, the Land of my Fathers, where nothing lives quite as vividly as a dead hero.

Wales remains rightly proud of its heroes and heritage and all those rather tiresome little trains; but today there is a sense of futurity and (in the capital at least) prosperity, that I don’t remember from my years as a student in the 1970s and 80s - when the only upwardly mobile thing in Cardiff was a late-night kebab from El Greco’s. The Society’s vibrant South Wales Regional Group is a case in point. They obtained extensive sponsorship to mount an ambitious quiz evening, which drew pupils from schools as far afield as Monmouth and Llanelli to Whitchurch High. There each team presented their ideas on “What can geologists do to save the planet”, and were put through their paces in a series of written and oral tests.

As the teams’ opening presentations unfolded it became clear that they had been tipped off that President Designate Dr Bryan Lovell was not only among the judges but was going to be speaking after the first round. A pattern swiftly emerged. Whether teams presented jointly or singly, used PowerPoint, or included a Planetary Rap from a dude in dreads, not one failed to conclude that the main way in which geoscientists could contribute to the future of our planet was through Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). This was handy, because that was exactly the subject on which Bryan later expanded - after first grilling the teams about what, in their presentations, they were “sure enough to tell a judge under oath”, and what they felt less confident about.

This exercise proved highly revealing. The ideas that instilled most confidence were - that CCS was going to be big; that whatever humans do to it, “the planet” would be fine; and that while earthquake forecasting would become more accurate, it would only be about where, and sadly not about when. Teams were less confident that CCS would be allowed to fulfil its potential. Some were less than totally confident that the anthropogenic element in climate change was as large as global warmers would have us believe; though they also felt that this hardly mattered from a policy point of view, because it would be folly to exacerbate a natural trend. Finally, one team noted that CCS should not be considered a long-term solution. It was a stop-gap measure, buying crucial time to develop the clean technologies that would ensure a sustainable future. And so, as well as showing that they had swotted their science, all teams displayed a remarkable ability to make reasoned assessments of risk and practicality that would put many a politician – indeed, many an adult – squarely to shame.
Winning Team, Whitchurch High School, Cardiff Winners by a narrow margin were the team from host institution, Whitchurch High. The magnificent trophies (courtesy of Halcrow) went to them; but as in all the best caucus races, everyone got prizes – teachers included – and quite right too. The biggest prize of all, though, went without a doubt to the Southern Wales Regional Group, which intends to run another Schools Challenge next year, hopefully with even more teams.

Everyone left Whitchurch feeling uplifted, for reasons of their own. For me it was finding that, after all this effort, inspiration, dedication and administration, nobody I asked could give me a reason why they went to all this trouble. Sated as I am with bloodless wonders who must name reasons for doing everything (and then as often as not can’t think of any), I felt a rush of gladness when the evening’s leading light, honorary Welshman Paul Maliphant, said: “We don’t really know why we do it – we just know that we should”.

Hugh Jones-Williams, Head teacher, said: "Whitchurch High School was delighted to host the inaugural School Geology Challenge. It will no doubt become an annual event and the School looks forward to travelling away next year to defend its title, having won on home bedrock this year!".

President Designate Bryan Lovell said afterwards: “You’ve got to get out there and meet the people who are actually doing things, not just sit in London talking to prefects. That way, you might actually learn something.”
  • The South Wales Regional Group Schools Geology Challenge 2010 was held on Wednesday 23 March at Whitchurch High School, Cardiff. Competing schools were Whitchurch High, Barry Comprehensive School, Cowbridge Comprehensive School, Amman Valley Comprehensive School, Monmouth Comprehensive School, and Coleg Sir Gar, Llanelli. The event was sponsored by Halcrow Group Ltd., Dargo Associates Ltd., WSP Remediation Ltd., Amgeuddfa Cymru (National Museum of Wales). Judges: Prof. Ian Hall (Cardiff University); Dr Bryan Lovell (Cambridge University); Ms Margaret McBride (Chair, SWRG); Paul Maliphant (Halcrow Group); Dr Ted Nield (Geoscientist);