Behind Birkbeck’s new visual identity

pocket-guides-etc-croppedIt’s an unusual position for an organisation to find itself in: on the brink of its third century and still no signature style. Imagine Apple without its elegant designs and simple use of space; or Google minus its primary-colours and clean white canvas.

So, just a few years shy of our 200th birthday, we thought it was time such a unique and vibrant university had the coherent and contemporary look it deserved.

What we wanted was a clear, well-considered look and feel that stands for Birkbeck, which is fortunate to possess two rare things: a real Unique Selling Point (as the UK’s only evening university) and a heritage to die for (a core mission which has remained unchanged for 200 years, of educating working Londoners).

So, where to start? We had a 20 year-old ‘lockup’ – a logotype and crest, always seen together on a burgundy panel; and a blue theme inherited from a decade-old advertising campaign. We didn’t want to change the lockup (the burgundy has been darkened and the crest reversed to give greater contrast). But the older and newer looks didn’t always sit together favourably and the visual identity void led to a variety of styles that were not always recognisably ‘Birkbeck’.

new-pop-up-exampleThe challenge, then, was to create an identity – typefaces, colour palette, ways of presenting information – that would live happily alongside the lockup and work across digital and printed channels and products for years to come.

Importantly, the identity needed to be easy for people across the university to put in to practice. We have a small central design team, but many others across the organisation have some responsibility for design, stationery or leaflets, for instance.

We hired Pentagram, the world’s largest independent design consultancy, after a competitive process during which we were wowed by their careful understanding of Birkbeck, creative problem-solving and knowledge of the Higher Education sector having worked with the University of the Arts and the University of Sussex.

A cross-university steering group of academics and professional staff were convened to discuss Birkbeck’s personality and how it might be portrayed visually. This group became essential arbiters throughout the process, helping to define and refine ideas and schemes.

And together we came up with a visual identity that is both beautiful and practical that reflects Birkbeck’s ‘attitude not age’ approach to higher education for all – inclusive, vibrant and world-class.

Domenic Lippa, partner at Pentagram, said: “We wanted to create a visual identity that used the heritage of the existing logo.  To do this, we anchored all information off of the logo, thus creating a strong hierarchy. Once we established this, the ‘heart’ of the identity, we started to introduce new typefaces, colours and imagery to support and counter-point that heritage.”

social-mock-up-croppedThere is enough flexibility to give people across the university room to ‘play’ with the identity, for instance by an unrestricted colourful palette and playful new ways of using our crest’s iconic owl – signifying our evening study. But brief, user-friendly guidelines gently help people stay within a ‘safe space’, ensuring Birkbeck always looks the part.

Needless to say the list of products queuing up for an identity make-over is long – from signage and stationery to websites – so the process of switching our look will take some time. We’ll take it gradually. We wanted to share the design with staff and students first, of course and there will be face-to-face briefings for people who work with design and on-going support from the central design team.

Externally, the new look will be debuted by our new marketing campaign which launches after Christmas with advertisements across the London underground and buses. Our annual magazine BBK will be sent to our alumni and friends shortly afterwards, sporting the new identity. And thereafter, as we proceed throughout 2017, e-newsletters, stationery, Open Evening livery, the 2018-19 prospectus, a new website design and many other products will follow on.

Professor David Latchman, Master of Birkbeck, said: “I am delighted that Birkbeck is getting its first ever visual identity. As we move towards our third century this colourful, modern look helps communicate with the vitality, passion and professionalism of our world-class university.”

–  Julia Day, Head of Communications at Birkbeck

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Creating ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ with a team of neuroscientists

Theatre Director Sarah Argent finds out why babies giggle and dance, and that she has more in common with the neuroscientists at Birkbeck’s Babylab than she first thoughthome

As someone who dropped all science subjects aged 14 to focus on the arts, I approached the invitation from Pete Glanville (Polka’s Artistic Director) to develop a theatre piece for babies inspired by the work of neuroscientists with a mixture of trepidation and delight (I always like to challenge myself!)

“We all shared a passion for improving the lives of babies but from very different perspectives”

Having identified the Babylab at Birkbeck as one of the most likely places with which to liaise, we were thrilled at the excitement and generosity with which they welcomed our proposal. We met with Mark Johnson, the Director of the BabyLab, and a number of his colleagues who outlined the fascinating work of the lab and we were thrilled to realise that we all shared a passion for improving the lives of babies but from very different perspectives. Having talked about our respective interest in and engagement with babies and how we might work together, Pete and I were taken down to the labs themselves where we were fascinated to see tiny bonnets of electrodes that can ascertain exactly how a baby’s brain is being stimulated; to hear more about the eye-tracking machines that can monitor exactly where a baby is looking; and to see various familiar toys etc that are used in experiments about object permanence and time intervals, etc.

Having agreed with the Babylab that we did, indeed, wish to work together, they arranged for Jo Belloli (Polka’s Associate Producer, Early Years) and me to meet with a range of scientists – undergraduates, PhDs and members of staff – to hear more about their individual and joint areas of research in order to identify which I could most readily see as being the inspiration for the creation of a piece of theatre for babies aged 6-18 months and their parents and carers. Everyone with whom we met did a wonderful job of describing their work in laymen’s terms (neither Jo nor I being a scientist) – although we did still have to ask a few very basic questions! After much discussion and deliberation, we chose three scientists with whom to work: Sinead Rocha, Rosy Edey, and Caspar Addyman (who cut his teeth at Birkbeck and, while there, developed the Baby Laughter project but is now on the teaching staff at the Infant Lab at Goldsmiths).

“You could see the brains of the creative team firing off at the mention of babies’ responses to sound or lights”

We then invited the scientists to visit Polka, to see the Adventure Theatre in which the production will be performed, to meet with Polka staff, and for them to find out more about us and for us to find out more about them. At a wonderfully-attended meeting (Polka staff were so intrigued about and excited by hearing more of the work of the scientists), Caspar, Rosy and Sinead outlined their research areas in more detail. Without the need for bonnets of electrodes, you could see the brains of the creative team firing off at the mention of babies’ responses to sound or lights or what makes them laugh. It was also hugely gratifying to realise that so many of the words and terms we use to describe our creative processes were also used by the scientists – maybe we have even more in common than we thought!

We then spent three wonderfully full and creative days in the Adventure Theatre playing with lights and movement and objects – a mixture of inanimate objects and actor, Maisie!

“The level of scientific clarity took things to a deeper level”

On the second day, we invited a number of babies and their mums to join us to observe how they would respond to our initial ideas. As we suspected, Maisie has a natural affinity with babies with a number of them being mesmerised by her from the moment they first clapped eyes on her. What was so exciting about this project was that, while as makers of baby theatre we are well-versed in close and detailed observation of babies while they are observing rehearsals or performances, the level of scientific clarity with which our scientists could describe the babies’ responses and analyse why the babies’ were responding in a particular way at their particular age took things to a deeper level.

While we’re not asking Maisie to play the character of a baby, we are keen for her movements to mirror or resemble those of a baby – to share some of the characteristics – and so, again, to have the scientists detailing babies’ reasons for moving e.g. the way in which they ‘unlearn’ some of the lessons they’ve learned while crawling or shuffling on their bottoms once they begin toddling on two feet, has played a fascinating role in helping us to develop the movement vocabulary of the piece.

“A wonderful example of science influencing art influencing science”

I have to be honest, the music that Sinead uses in the BabyLab as part of her exploration of rhythm was not music that either myself or Julian Butler (our composer) would have instinctively been drawn to in creating a theatre piece for babies but, in line with the brief of responding to the work of the scientists, we have dutifully explored this – and it has led us to realise that babies respond to much more upbeat and rhythmic music than we had previously imagined! Julian has now created a wonderful track which starts with a heartbeat (evoking the sounds the baby would have heard in the womb) and building to wonderful up-tempo Latin-inspired rhythms – all thanks to Sinead’s research. He has also remixed a track that Sinead had stopped using in her experiments as, while it has the right tempo, it didn’t have a strong enough pulse for the babies to respond to. Sinead is now exploring whether she can use Julian’s remixed track in the BabyLab – a wonderful example of science influencing art influencing science.

Again, confounding our initial instincts, the Adventure Theatre will be transformed into a more aesthetically-pleasing version of the BabyLabs complete with dark curtains and versions of the objects and toys found in the Lab – along with gorgeous carpet and cushions on which the audience can sit.

“Now we have scientists with us who are able to explain WHY the babies’ are responding in this way”

Our scientists will be visiting us regularly throughout rehearsals, observing our material as it develops and observing and commenting on babies’ responses each time they visit. Detailed observation of the moments that make babies’ giggle, the moments that make them move spontaneously be that bouncing or waving their arms, the moments that make their already-large eyes open even more widely is always part of our process, but now we have scientists with us who are able to explain WHY the babies’ are responding in this way.

Further information:

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Going to university: how to start

This post was written by Professor Patrick Tissington, head of Birkbeck’s Department of Organizational Psychology. Here, Professor Tissington offers advice to new students beginning their courses all over the UK and beyond on how to get the most out of the university experience. this article first appeared on Prof Tissington’s blog on September 12 2016.  

And so it’s the time of year when thousands of students embark on the Great Adventure that university is. Having had the privilege of tutoring students through this transition for nearly twenty years, I wanted to share my experience to help with this important and exciting time. In this blog, I will cover how to approach the start of your university career. Further blogs will top you up as you go.

The points I am going to make are summarised as:

  • Join in
  • Balance
  • Find the right job
  • Begin with the end in mind

Join in

All the evidence points to students who do well, enjoy their time at university and get the most out of it are the ones who feel part of the university in a very personal way. These days all institutions have vast arrays of clubs and societies for their students which are usually supported financially. So there are so very many options for interests you can pursue outside of your studies and they will be far cheaper than you can find elsewhere. It might seem odd for me to start by telling you to look for things to do outside of lecture time, but it is with good reason. Look for the ones that seem most fun to you. If you played hockey at school, you might want to carry this on and make a bee-line for like-minded hockey folk. On the other hand, going to university is a chance to reinvent yourself and you could decide that you don’t want to be known as a hockey player any longer and want to try rock climbing, chess or ballroom dancing. Even if you aren’t sure, join several clubs and see which ones you want to carry on with. But make sure you do keep at least one going. It is your way to get to know people outside of your course and will broaden your experience. There could be opportunities to put it on your CV but that really shouldn’t be your driving force. University is a time to broaden your mind in all kinds of ways, so make the best of the very many opportunities available to you.

Oh, and yes I do realise that these days with the fees, you will have in mind always what you are going to do for a living when you graduate. But my experience is that those who have an open mind frequently find they gain far more benefit than those who just focus on building an interesting CV. Do make sure you are doing things that interest, challenge and entertain you. Perhaps do things that frighten you a bit!

As I said at the start, there is a hard headed rationale for this advice. If you are part of a club, you will feel more involved in the university. This means you are far more likely to do as well as you possibly can in your studies. And believe me, the experience of being at a university that you feel involved with is something that stays with you for life. Personally I spent time working for the student magazine when I was an undergraduate at the University of Westminster. This gave me free CDs, free entry to gigs and friendship with people across the university. I loved it! I also joined the mountaineering club but that didn’t actually suit me in the end. So don’t be afraid to drop something if it isn’t working out. But don’t be flakey. Pick one or two things that you are going to do and throw yourself into them.

Balance

The start of university is one of the very few times in life when you are able to just go up to someone and start talking to them. This can be intimidating to do at first but remember that despite appearances, pretty well everyone will be feeling the same way so dive in and meet people.

But don’t feel you have to go to EVERY party. I have seen time and time again students get carried away by freshers week and carry on partying for weeks and suddenly find it is exam time and they haven’t prepared. You must always remember the core reason of being at University – learning. And yes I did say learning and not getting a good degree. If you set out to learn everything you can about your subject, all the things about study, exams and getting a job will fall into place. So work on balanced approach. If you have been out socialising more nights than not, you need to take a long hard look at why you have gone to university. This will not be sustainable either financially, physically or in the end, educationally. So have the guts to say no to invitations sometimes.

 

Find the right job

My aim is to provide advice that will be relevant to all students who are starting at University this year. However, I work at Birkbeck, University of London where the majority of our students have been working for a while. So, some of the following might be less relevant to some of them.

I worked my way through university but at the time, this was rare. But for you, unless you are very lucky, it is inevitable. So think again about balance. Find a job that will give you what you need in terms of pay but also isn’t going to be so tedious or stressful it will affect your studies or your enjoyment of life. Of course you need to be realistic and you aren’t going to find a job that gives you flexible hours and pays you large amounts of money to do fun things. But also remember what your value to an employer might be. As an intelligent, resourceful person, you might find there are ways of building from a basic bar job into something more interesting and better paid. People I knew worked in betting shops and found great ways of increasing responsibility and being better paid. Others did out of hours admin. As for me, I ran a market stall, trained as a tour guide and was in the Army Reserve. I don’t recommend you follow my example exactly as these aren’t exactly normal things to do, but hopefully you get the point about being creative when it comes to earning money. Of course the ideal is to have a job which will help you when you leave. Woman stacking shelves in supermarketSupermarkets for example have very good management training programmes and will look very favourably on any shop floor experience you have had. Anything that needs you to deal with the public or manage staff will be really useful. Be creative in your ways of earning. I know one student who is paying her way by buying things from charity shops and selling them on eBay for a profit. She has backup plans having qualified as a life guard and experience as a barista so there are options available to her.

635919692215901891-1513674337_baristaBut the balance idea comes in again. I have seen people get so engaged in their part time job, it has encroached on their studies. This is a bad mistake. Scrimp and save so you have to work less to support yourself rather than taking extra shifts to buy clothes.

And a word of warning as there is also a life lesson to be learned. Things that look too good to be true usually are. That is, offers to make easy money are usually scams. You will need to work for your money. But it is all good experience. I firmly believe that no work experience is wasted so labouring on a building site, working in a call centre or shelf stacking all give real insights into the word of work as well as providing much needed money to support you as you study.

 Begin with the end in mind

And my final advice for this first blog is one that comes from Stephen Covey’s excellent “Seven habits of effective people”. Think long and hard about what you want to have achieved when you graduate. Be really really specific about it. What do you want to be thinking and feeling as you walk across the platform to receive your degree? Do you want to be sure that you have landed the graduate job? Do you want to have got the best marks in all subjects that you possibly could have? Do you want to be looking back on your time at university as a time of fun, learning and growth? Spend time writing this down. Visualise exactly what you want to feel on that day.

students1

Having done this, now plan backwards. How will you achieve these feelings? What do you need to have done in the final year to achieve this? What in the second year (or third too if you are studying for four years)? What in the first year? And so what do you need to do this first term? No really. What do you need to do this term? And by half way through the term? By the end of this month? So what do you need to do this week. Write it down. This is an absolute must. By writing things down we make them more formal and we are far more likely to actually do them.

So that’s it. The key to a successful university experience is balance. Don’t overdo the work but don’t under do it. Do have a social life but don’t over-do it.

I will be back in a few weeks with tips on how lectures are different from lessons. How to get the best out of your lecturers and many other things. But if you would like to get the full details about all my advice, then it’s in a book.9781446266496

I wrote it with a former student who, despite being the first person in his family EVER to go to university, he got a first AND had a great time. His motivation for writing the book was that if he could do well at university, everyone should learn from his experience so anyone could achieve. I too struggled to find out what I was supposed to do at university and only really stumbled across the way of succeeding just before my finals. We both want to help students get the best out of university. And not only from their studies.

Read this article on Professor Tissington's blog

Read this article on Professor Tissington’s blog

Find out more

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Women in STEM campaign 2016

Today (23 June) sees the launch of the Women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) campaign 2016, supported by a wide range of partners including Department for Women and Equalities and The Equality Challenge Unit and led by MediaPlanet.

To mark the start of the campaign, Birkbeck spoke to women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) departments across the College to find out more about what excites them about working in their research fields, how they came to follow a career in STEM and who inspires them.

The Departments of Biological Sciences and Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck have been awarded Athena Swan Bronze awards. Athena Swan awards are given by the Equality Challenge Unit in recognition of commitment to advancing the careers of women in STEM subjects. Other departments and the College are working towards further awards.

Read more content from #BBKWomeninSTEM

BBK article: This year’s BBK magazine featured a profile of Rosalind Franklin, the “dark lady of DNA” #WomeninSTEM16

Video
Inspired by science: women in science share their stories
What can we learn from the Apollo samples? Dr Louise Alexander

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Why we should mine the moon

IanCrawfordThis article was contributed by Professor Ian Crawford of Birkbeck’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. It was originally published on The Conversation.

To date, all human economic activity has depended on the material and energy resources of a single planet; understandably, perhaps. It is conceivable though that future advances in space exploration could change this by opening our closed planetary economy to essentially unlimited external resources of energy and raw materials.

Look up at the Moon this evening, and you might be gazing at a solution. The Earth’s closest celestial neighbour seems likely to play a major role and already a number of private companies have been created to explore the possibilities.

It is important to stress that even now, 40 years after the Apollo missions, we still don’t have a complete picture of the Moon’s economic potential, and obtaining one will require a more rigorous programme of lunar exploration than has been undertaken to-date. In part, this is why proposed future lunar exploration missions (such as the recently announced Lunar Mission One) are so important.

Nevertheless, as a result of work over the past four decades, we do now know enough to make a first-order assessment of lunar resource potential. In doing so it is useful to distinguish between three possible future applications of such resources.

Digging deep

  1. We have the option of using lunar materials to facilitate continued exploration, and future economic development, of the Moon itself. The concept is usually referred to as In Situ Resource Utilisation, or ISRU.
  2. We could make use of lunar resources to facilitate scientific and economic activity in the vicinity of both Earth and Moon (so-called cis-lunar space) as well as future exploration deeper into the Solar System
  3. We can consider the importation of lunar resources to the Earth’s surface where they would contribute directly to the global economy.

Recent work – which I have summarised here – has shown that the Moon does possess materials suitable for ISRU. Most important in this respect is evidence for deposits of water ice and other volatiles trapped in cold (less than 100 Kelvin or minus 173 degrees Celsius) and permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. In addition to being required for human life support, water is also a ready source of oxygen (required for both life support and rocket fuel oxidiser) and hydrogen (a valuable rocket fuel).

In addition to possible ice deposits, it has been known since the early studies of the Apollo samples that the lunar soil contains volatiles, substances derived ultimately from the solar wind (e.g. hydrogen, helium, carbon, nitrogen, and at high latitudes, hydroxide and perhaps water), and these may also be exploitable for ISRU activities.

Although ISRU will undoubtedly benefit future scientific exploration, it is true that such activities will only make wider economic sense if further lunar exploration and development is able to yield net benefits to the global economy. It is here that the second of those three potential applications of lunar resources comes into play.

Sci-fi realities Mark Bult, CC BY-ND

Fuel’s gold

Our global civilisation is already highly dependent on Earth-orbiting satellites for communications, navigation, weather forecasting and resource management, and this reliance is likely to increase. The high costs of these activities are largely dictated by high launch costs, and by the fact that failed satellites cannot currently be repaired or replenished in orbit. The availability of resources obtained from the weaker gravity conditions of the Moon would help mitigate these obstacles to further economic development in Earth orbit. Near-term lunar exports to a cis-lunar infrastructure could include the supply of hydrogen and oxygen as rocket fuel/oxidiser.

In addition, lunar surface rocks and soils are rich in potentially useful but heavy (and thus expensive to launch from Earth) raw materials such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, iron and titanium. Therefore, if a lunar industrial infrastructure is gradually built up, the Moon may be able to provide more sophisticated products to Earth-orbiting facilities. Examples might include titanium and aluminium alloys for structural components, and silicon-based photovoltaic cells for solar power. The key business case for sourcing these materials on the Moon is simple. It takes about 20 times less energy to launch a given mass from the surface of the Moon into Earth orbit compared to launching it from the Earth’s surface to Earth orbit.

Down to earth

This all seems pretty encouraging for any company or country considering drilling on the Moon, but opportunities for lunar resources to make a more direct contribution to the world economy by being imported to the Earth’s surface are limited. This is because the Earth already contains the same basic mix of chemical elements as does the Moon, many of them in higher localised concentrations (i.e. ores), and we have a well-developed infrastructure for extracting and refining terrestrial raw materials.

Helium 3’s potential may be over-inflated warrenski, CC BY

The light isotope of helium (helium-3), which is implanted into lunar soils by the solar wind is often cited as an exception because it is perceived by some to be a potential fuel for future nuclear fusion reactors on Earth. However, sustainable nuclear fusion using helium-3 has yet to be shown to be practical, and even if it is, the concentration of helium-3 in lunar soils is so low (about ten parts-per-billion by mass) that strip mining and processing hundreds of square kilometres of the lunar surface would be required each year in order to make a significant contribution to Earth’s future energy needs.

Other possible lunar materials which might conceivably be economically imported to the Earth include platinum group elements (currently valued at between $20,000 and $50,000 per kilo) extracted from iron meteorites that may have survived impact with the lunar surface, and materials (for example, economically valuable rare-earth elements which are known to be concentrated in some regions of the Moon) for which the environmental costs of terrestrial mining may one day make lunar sources more attractive.

Booster stages

When we pull together the evidence, it remains difficult to identify any single lunar resource that will be sufficiently valuable to drive a mining industry on its own. There is no simple solution. However, the Moon does possess abundant raw materials that are of potential economic interest.

We need to think of a hierarchy of future applications. This begins with the use of lunar materials to facilitate human activities on the Moon itself. We can then progress to the use of lunar resources to underpin a future industrial capability within the Earth-Moon system. In this way, gradually increasing access to lunar resources may help “bootstrap” a self-sustaining space-based economy from which the global economy will ultimately benefit.

This article is based on an invited review paper on lunar resources that will be published by the journal Progress in Physical Geography in the New Year. A preprint of that paper, which contains references to the primary literature on which this essay is based, can be found here

The Conversation

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Beat ‘Blue Monday’ – tips for improving your happiness

This post was contributed by Dr Amy Harrison, PhD, DClinPsy. Dr Harisson is a Clinical Psychologist and teaches Positive Psychology as an Associate Lecturer. Her clinical work focuses on helping young people with eating disorders and her research focuses on how people manage emotions and experience pleasure from social interaction. 

‘Blue Monday’ – the third Monday in January (today) – has been reported as one of the grimmest days of the year. Although there may be no hard science behind this assertion, it’s easy to understand why it’s developed this reputation. The merriment of Christmas has long since faded but the mountains of credit card debt remain as we struggle through to payday; New Year Resolutions have fallen by the wayside; and the next Bank Holiday feels an aeon away.

However, there are ways that you can tackle these ‘blue’ feelings.

It’s important to remember that it’s not what happens to you, but what you make of it that is important. Research from the field of positive psychology, which aims to understand the science of happiness and wellbeing, suggests that there are things we can all do to manage the daily grind with greater ease.

My tips include:

  1. Make an effort to look out for positive things during the day – we can train ourselves to notice more of the good stuff, no matter how small.
  2. Do something for others – give up your seat on the train, feed a parking meter or smile at a stranger. You’ll be surprised at how warm this makes you feel.
  3. Count your blessings – write about something you’re grateful for, or thank someone for helping you.
  4. Look at a picture of your favourite person, experience or animal – research has shown that this can significantly improve your mood.

Many people might be surprised to hear that these small actions can have such a positive impact on mood. However, it’s worth a go – one thing that can be guaranteed is that if you don’t try anything different, things will stay the same.

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The tricky task of achieving life/work balance

On Monday 25 February Birkbeck held an Athena SWAN mentoring event, primarily aimed at women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. Professor Annette Karmiloff-Smith, Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of Psychological Sciences, shares her advice, gained over her 36-year career as an academic in Switzerland, Holland and the UK .

 

My experience with mentoring young scientists has been that most females focus on how to balance career with having children, and less often on how to advance their careers, yet of course they should do both. By contrast, males tend to focus mainly on career advancement, rarely raising the problem of balance with family life, yet they too should do both.

The two-body problem

Academics often have academic partners, although the problems are just as difficult when one partner’s career is outside academia.  One lesson I have learnt is that one must discuss everything beforehand.  Don’t wait until the problems arise and resentment creeps in.  Be objective, realising in advance that one of you may get a superb offer in a place where the other cannot find something suitable.  What will happen if that arises?  Whose career will have precedence (certainly not automatically the man’s!)?  How will you find compromises that meet both your needs to some extent, even if not to perfection?  Whose career is more transportable?  All these issues must be faced in advance, without which debates end up in resentment for one party and guilt for the other…. often resulting in a doomed relationship.  You have to ask yourself, which is more important: career or relationship, even if both are important.  The solution isn’t to pretend the issue won’t arise!

Integrating family and career

Many young academics desire a child.  It is often assumed that a busy career means a single child.  In a newspaper article many years ago, Katherine Whitehorn raised the question “one child or many?” and concluded that, if you are a busy professional, it may be better – albeit counterintuitive – to have several children!  She reasoned that a singleton waits desperately for mum (or dad) to come home, whereas several children just muck in together and barely notice their parent is away.  What about maternity leave?  Fortunately, since I was a mother, maternity (and paternity) leave has vastly improved, so you could devote yourself entirely to the new arrival. This is clearly your right, but is it such a good idea?  My advice is that, if you intend to pursue your career, then don’t cut off completely during the maternity leave.  Save a special time each day to check email, read the latest article, jot down notes for your next article or research project.  You are going to have to juggle both once you return to work, so start practising gently now.  Remember that the smaller the baby the more s/he sleeps, so take your baby to special lectures or a conference.  Feed the baby just before it starts and hopefully s/he’ll sleep right through.  Do sit on an aisle seat, though, in case s/he starts screaming!!   And, once you’re back fulltime at work, agree with your partner in advance on how you will both decide who will come home anytime the baby is sick – not automatically the mother!

Focus your research

When you had no home responsibilities, it may have been fine to dabble in numerous research projects, but once there are family responsibilities, it is essential to focus your research. Try to arrange to teach on courses that are related to your research so that your reading serves both.

Avoiding guilt

Remind yourself frequently that you cannot be superwoman!  Keep an eye on your health and remember that sleep isn’t only a time of rest, but that parts of the brain are more active during sleep than wakefulness and that sleep is critical for the consolidation of memory.  Avoid guilt, and learn to say “No” to requests to take on extra tasks.  Protect yourself at this time of your career; you can be an avid volunteer in the future.  Tell yourself that it’s OK to use day-care and, when you drop off your child, leave with a confident stride.  Babies pick up on their parents’ doubts.  Do ask for help when you need it.  You don’t have to prove you can do it all alone.

You never stop being a mum…

A personal ending:  I thought that when my daughters left the nest, had their own careers and families, I could simply get on with my career without a second thought… Alas no!  Now the potential guilt raises its head again:  how do I juggle expected grandmother duties (I have seven) with the pressures of my academic career?  Rest assured, I have no regrets… having children, grandchildren and a busy career have fulfilled my life.

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The scientific legacy of the Apollo Moon landings and the case for a return to the Moon

Fig. 1. One of the last two men on the Moon: Harrison Schmitt stands next to a large boulder at the Apollo 17 landing site in December 1972. (NASA).

Today, 19 December 2012, marks exactly 40 years to the day since the last human beings to set foot on the Moon, Gene Cernan and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt of Apollo 17 (Fig. 1), returned safely to Earth. In the three and a half years between Neil Armstrong’s ‘first small step’ in July 1969 and the departure of Cernan and Schmitt from the lunar surface in December 1972, a total of twelve astronauts explored the lunar surface in the immediate vicinity of six Apollo landing sites (Fig. 2).

Fig 2. The Apollo landing sites. Note their restriction to the central part of the nearside – there is a lot more of the Moon to explore! (Image: NASA).

In their cumulative 12.5 days on the lunar surface, the twelve Apollo moonwalkers traversed a total distance of 95.5 km from their landing sites (heavily weighted to the last three missions that were equipped with the Lunar Roving Vehicle (or ‘moon buggy’), collected 382 kg of rock and soil samples, drilled three geological sample cores to depths greater than 2 m, and deployed over 2100 kg of scientific equipment (Fig. 3). The results from all this activity continue to have a major scientific impact today.

 

Apollo science

Probably the greatest scientific legacy of Apollo has resulted from analysis of the 382 kg of rock and soil samples returned to Earth. One of the key results has been the calibration of the lunar cratering rate. Only by comparing the density of impact craters on surfaces whose ages have been obtained independently by laboratory analyses of returned samples is it possible to determine the rate at which meteorite impacts have created craters on a planetary surface. Analysis of the Apollo samples has enabled this to be done for the Moon, which remains the only planetary body for which such a data-set exists, and which is used, with various assumptions, to estimate the ages of cratered surfaces throughout the Solar System from Mercury to the moons of the outer planets.

Fig. 5. The current theory of the Moon’s formation from debris produced by a giant impact on the early Earth is largely based on the geochemical analysis of samples collected by the Apollo missions (image: Wikipedia Commons).

Another important result of Apollo sample analysis has been the evidence provided for the origin of the Moon. In particular, the discovery that lunar materials have compositions broadly similar to those of Earth’s mantle, but that the Moon is highly depleted in volatiles and has only a small iron core, led to the current view that the Moon formed from debris resulting from a giant impact of a Mars-sized planetesimal with the early Earth. It is very doubtful that we would have sufficient geochemical evidence usefully to constrain theories of lunar origins without the quantity and diversity of samples provided by Apollo.

Birkbeck’s involvement

The Apollo samples have of course also been central to our understanding of the Moon’s own geological history and evolution. While lunar geology may at first sight appear to be a relatively parochial area of planetary science, it is important to realise that the Moon’s surface and interior retain records of planetary processes which will have occurred in the early histories of all the terrestrial planets. In all these respects the Moon acts as a keystone for understanding the geological evolution of rocky planets, and is an area in which we at Birkbeck are actively engaged (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Fragments of Apollo 12 soil sample 12023 at the Lunar Sample Laboratory at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, being selected for a lunar volcanic diversity study by Birkbeck scientists in 2009. Inset (left to right): PhD student Joshua Snape (now a post-doc at the Open University), the author, and Dr Katherine Joy (now at the University of Manchester); since this photo was taken Birkbeck PhD student Louise Alexander has also joined the project (photo: I.A. Crawford).

Lunar geophysics

In addition to study of the Apollo samples, many other areas of scientific investigation were also performed by the Apollo missions, especially geophysical investigations of the Moon’s interior (Fig. 7). Key results included the discovery of natural moonquakes and using them to probe the structure of the crust and mantle, geophysical constraints on the existence and physical state of the lunar core, and measurements of the flow of heat from the Moon’s interior. Although these data are over thirty years old, advances in interpretation means that they continue to give new insights into the interior structure of the Moon. For example, only last year an apparently definitive seismic detection of the Moon’s core, and strong evidence that, like the Earth’s, it consists of solid inner and liquid outer layers, was made by a re-examination of Apollo seismic data.

Fig. 7. Apollo 14 seismometer deployed on the lunar surface; the silvery skirt provided thermal stability. These instruments, also deployed at the Apollo 12, 15 and 16 landing sites, constituted the Apollo passive seismic network which remained active until 1978 and yielded valuable data about the interior of the Moon (NASA).

Looking over the totality of the Apollo legacy, I think one could reasonably make the case that Apollo laid the foundations for modern planetary science, certainly as it relates to the origin and evolution of the terrestrial planets. Arguably, the calibration of the lunar cratering rate, and its subsequent extrapolation to estimating surface ages throughout the Solar System, could alone justify this assertion. If one also considers the improvements to our knowledge of lunar origins and evolution, and the records of solar wind, cosmic rays and meteoritic debris extracted from lunar soils, it is clear that our knowledge of the Solar System would be greatly impoverished had the Apollo missions not taken place.

Time to go back?

However, it is also clear that Apollo did little more than scratch the surface, both literally and figuratively, of the lunar geological record. With only six landing sites, all at low latitudes on the nearside (Fig. 2), it is clear that much remains to be explored. Moreover, precisely because we have the Apollo legacy as a foundation on which to build, supplemented by recent orbital remote-sensing missions, it is now possible to formulate much more sophisticated lunar exploration strategies than was possible forty years ago. There are now key, specific, scientific questions which can only be addressed by once again returning to the lunar surface (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8. Artist’s concept of astronauts supervising a drill on the Moon. Returning humans to the lunar surface later in the 21st century would facilitate larger scale exploration activities than was possible with Apollo, and will further increase our knowledge of lunar and Solar System evolution (artwork: NASA).

Therefore, as we pass the 40th anniversary of the last human expedition to the Moon, there are good scientific reasons to start planning for a return. However, unlike the Cold War competition that drove Apollo, a human return to the Moon in the coming decades would ideally be part of a sustained, international, programme of Solar System exploration such as the emerging Global Exploration Strategy.

Ian Crawford is Professor of Planetary Science and Astrobiology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London. His group is actively engaged in a number of areas of lunar science, and has recently been awarded a grant of £99,300 by STFC to study lunar meteorites found on Earth. This blog article is based on a popular article published in the December 2012 issue of the Royal Astronomical Society journal Astronomy and Geophysics, and a more technical review paper just published in Planetary and Space Science.

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