Ambleside & District

Science & Technology

Coordinator: Mike Green; Deputy: Nigel Nixon

Web page editor: Mike Green

Meetings: Fourth Monday in the month, September to April, excluding December, in the upstairs meeting room, Ambleside Library. There is now lift access to this room.

The Science & Technology group had a highly successful session in 2018-9 with seven meetings (including three excellent external speakers) and a visit to the Barrow Mechanical Biological Treatment Centre in June. We plan to repeat this pattern in 2019-20.

We arrange talks followed by discussion on a wide range of topics in the field ranging from the latest developments in research to the history of science and technology. We aim to present material in a way that is accessible to those with an interest in the field but who do not have any formal knowledge or experience.

For our first two talks in 2019-20 we have external speakers. In September Dr Janet Hefferman, an independent statistical consultant who appears as an expert High Court witness, will discuss how statistics can be used to understand very rare events, such as sudden sinking of large ships. No previous maths knowledge is required! At our October meeting Dr Catherine Isherwood, a geological consultant will give a geologist’s perspective on the fracking debate.

Visit to the Mechanical Biological Treatment Plant in Barrow

Following the talk to the group by Andy Vickers in February (click on the link upper right or look at the May 2019 newsletter for a summary) we made a visit to the Mechanical Biological Treatment Plant in Barrow on 19 June. Perhaps expecting to see conveyor belts will people sifting through our waste to sort it we were amazed at the level of mechanisation of the operation, which employs just seventeen people.

In South Cumbria, after we put our “non-recyclable” rubbish into our black bins, there is no more human interaction with it. The “bin lorries” take it to Barrow, dump it through doors into a very large pit from where it is lifted by a crane into a shredder. Now left for two weeks with warm air circulating through it to allow organic material to decompose and for it to dry it is then separated using magnets, drums, sieves and blowers into ferrous and non-ferrous metals, aggregate replacement (stones, glass, etc.), shredded paper, wood, plastic foil and similar, and “fines” (organic, soil-like material). Metals are sent for recycling, aggregate to road making, the shredded material to be burned for industrial heating, and the fines are typically used for covering old landfill sites. The only material sent for burial in landfill is the dust that collects in the plant. The loading of all this material into separate trailers is also fully automated.

We had many questions as we tried to understand the process but perhaps one of the most interesting was “would it be possible to process material that has been left in landfill sites in the past” to which the answer was a very positive “yes”.

Barrow Treatment Plant
The kitchen waste put into our bins is very welcome since it helps the decomposition process and there seems to be no need for South Cumbria County Council to set up an expensive collection service for such material. Don’t feel guilty about putting it into your black bin.

A truncated description of the operation of a similar facility in Dumfries and Galloway can be found on YouTube.

If you are interested in receiving updates by email contact the coordinator or register as a member of the group using the Beacon portal (for this you need your membership number).

Dates for your Diary
Mon Sep 23rd The Mathematical Detective - Using Extreme Value Theory to Explain the Unexplained
Dr Janet Heffernan (Independent Statistical Consultant)
Janet Heffernan is a professional statistician and internationally renowned expert in extreme value theory, the area of mathematics used to understand probabilities of very rare events (e.g. events which occur only once every 1000 or 10000 years). She will talk about her experience as an expert witness in the High Court Investigation into the sinking of the largest ever UK ship lost at sea, and how her work has been used in clinical trials to save lives. No previous maths experience required!

Janet has worked as an independent statistical consultant for thirteen years and most of this work has been in environmental statistics. Previously, Janet was a lecturer in Environmental Statistics at Lancaster University where she did her PhD in Spatial Statistics and Epidemiology, before shifting her attention to Extreme Value Statistics. This is the research area in which her expertise is most recognised, having published to date some eighteen papers in this field. Since setting up as an independent statistical consultant in 2006 she has worked with government led research agencies and private companies alike to support their use of Extreme Values in a variety of settings including offshore oil and gas exploration, clinical drug safety, flood risk assessment, renewable energy, and forensic extremes
Mon Oct 28th The Fracking Debate: a geologist's perspective
Dr Catherine Isherwood (Senior Hydrogeologist, RSKW Ltd)

‘Fracking’ has become one of those technical words that is encountered everywhere – in broadcast and printed media, in political speeches, on social media, in ordinary conversations. As a result, there is an awful lot of information and mis-information readily available about fracking and it can be very difficult to work out what’s what.
This presentation will attempt to unravel some of the technical background to fracking, what it means and what it is used for. This will include a brief discussion around the development of fracking and its associated industries and the environmental concerns associated with these, and will hopefully explain some of the propaganda and mis-information that surrounds and clouds the conversation. We will lead in to a discussion around the technical and ethical issues associated with fracking and the use of fossil fuels – focusing on the two questions ‘Can we?’ and ‘Should we?’, which address very different aspects and as a result have very different answers.

Catherine is a Principal Hydrogeologist at RSK. She has over twelve years' experience working as a geo-environmental specialist, with particular focus on geological, hydrogeological and hydrological assessments. Her work focuses on hydrogeological risk assessment and risk management, in particular in relation to impacts on groundwater resources from conventional and unconventional oil and gas development, exploitation of geothermal energy potential, and renewable energy and infrastructure developments within the UK and Europe. She has a strong background in environmental regulation and has advised and supported developers from a wide range of industries, including mining, quarrying, waste management and major infrastructure projects in obtaining the authorisations and permits required to operate. Catherine is a Chartered Geologist and Fellow of the Geological Society of London, and a Professional Graduate member of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3).
Mon Nov 25th To sleep perchance to dream?
Mike Green

Why we sleep and dream are two of the many ageless questions that humans ask. New technology, including brain scanning techniques, are beginning to yield some of the answers that point to the importance of a good night’s sleep to health and to the role of dreaming in forming memories.
In this talk we will look at some of the things that happen to our body that make us feel tired and then as we sleep and dream. Do not fall asleep during this talk!
Mon Dec 23rd No meeting
Mon Jan 27th 2020 A brief history of canal engineering
Nigel Nixon
From stop locks to present day models, alternatives to locks and means of water conservation.
Mon Feb 24th 2020 The Fall and Rise of Alfred Wegener
John O’Hara

In this talk John will describe the story of plate tectonics including a basic explanation of plate boundary activity.
Mon Mar 23rd 2020 Have we made genetic engineering safe?
Gwyn Jones

Genetic engineering received a bad press when it was first proposed (in some cases quite rightly). However, recent advances show that it can be applied to the benefit of mankind without the earlier scientific objections. We'll look at the most recent advances and the benefits they can provide for human health and the environment. Political objections still occur within the EU (and elsewhere) - so we'll examine their validity. Spoiler alert: most cars are safe - but are the drivers?
Mon Apr 27th 2020 The greatest – Einstein or Newton?
Terry Sloan (Emeritus Professor, University of Lancaster)

Terry has given us a number of excellent talks in the past on a variety of topics. This time he turns to aspects of the history of science and will review the legacies left from the work of Newton and Einstein and then encourage a debate on the question posed. Hopefully some of the philosophy of science will emerge from the debate.
More Group Pages
Art and Handicrafts Bridge at Marchesi Bridge at Skelwith Bridge Climbing and Scrambling
Crosswords Cultural History Discussion French Conversation
Gardens Geology High Fells & Scrambles Holidays
Learning Spanish Together Local History Mah-jong & Rummikub Music
Natural History Photography Play Reading Pub Lunches
Reading Science & Technology Social Walking B & C Social Walking D
Spanish Conversation Table Tennis Theatre/Concert Writing
More Group Pages
Art and Handicrafts Bridge at Marchesi
Bridge at Skelwith Bridge Climbing and Scrambling
Crosswords Cultural History
Discussion French Conversation
Gardens Geology
High Fells & Scrambles Holidays
Learning Spanish Together Local History
Mah-jong & Rummikub Music
Natural History Photography
Play Reading Pub Lunches
Reading Science & Technology
Social Walking B & C Social Walking D
Spanish Conversation Table Tennis
Theatre/Concert Writing