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Geologist wins UK Young Scientist of the Year

Thomas Hearing

Thomas Hearing, an A Level student at the Thomas Hardye School in Dorset, has been named UK Young Scientist of the Year for his project, ‘Mapping Monmouth beach and the eroding ammonite pavement', reports Sarah Day from the Big Bang festival. 

Tom’s project was selected from hundreds of applicants to be showcased at the finals of the awards, held at the Big Bang Fair in Manchester, and was the only project focusing on Earth Sciences at the Fair.

‘I’m really surprised!’ Tom says. ‘I wasn’t expecting anything. My teachers suggested entering because last year’s students had such a good time. So I came for the experience, and ended up winning!’

Tom’s project was funded by a Nuffield Science Bursary, and focused on the eroding ammonite pavement at Monmouth beach, near Lyme Regis. Over six months in the summer of 2009, he used precision mapping gps to study the erosion patterns and produce a model which he hopes can be applied to other sites.

‘It’s the erosion that makes the Jurassic coast so special’ says Tom, ‘because that’s what’s exposing all these wonderful fossils. But it’s eroding incredibly quickly, and we’re losing quite a lot of valuable fossils.

‘Because it’s a natural world heritage site we can’t interfere with the erosion, but we can at least monitor what’s there while we’ve still got it. So this project was a baseline study to see what was there now, and set up the possibility of monitoring erosion in the future’.

Tom has produced erosion patterns based on his research, which predict how the coast should erode in the future.

‘I’ll come back in a couple of years and see if the models were right and the area I’ve predicted to erode has done so. If so, I hope to roll this out across more of the Jurassic Coast’.

The award was presented by Peter Mandelson, along with a cash prize of £2,000, an experience prize of his choice for either a trip to Earthwatch or NASA, and an additional trip provided by Research Councils UK to either CERN or the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma.

Geology was an early interest for Tom, according to his Dad.

'We used to take him on holiday down to Dorset, and from the age of four or five he would be showing an interest in things that he found on the beach. This is his passion - we're incredibly proud! He's studying geography at school. It's a shame he couldn't do geology - it would be good if more schools could offer geology as a subject'.

Tom is hoping to pursue his interest in geology at Oxford University in September. He is also keen to continue promoting geology to the public.

‘That’s something I really want to do. Geology is such a good way of getting kids interested – not just in geology, but in all sciences. It encompasses biology, chemistry, maths, nearly everything! It’s such an interesting and diverse subject, but there’s so little of it around – my project was the only geology project I could find here, even though the theme of National Science and Engineering Week is ‘Earth’! Hopefully there will be more in the future’.