Talking hay while the sun shines

Dr Geeta Ludhra, exploring the smell of hay.

Dr Geeta Ludhra, Dadima’s CIC.

“Ah, Mitti Matters!” Dr Geeta Ludhra was responding enthusiastically to my clumsy attempts to explain the value of floodplain meadows.

‘Mitti’ (मिट्टी), Geeta explained, is the Panjabi word for soil. The word ‘mitti’ evokes ancestral land memories for many first and second-generation British South Asians like Geeta, through family histories and nostalgic stories that the elders carried with them from the Motherland. It can hold a deep spiritual and inter-generational dimension of Panjabi folk traditions and celebrations of festivals like Lohri and Vaisakhi.

And Mitti really does matter to Geeta, her identity, her family history and her connections to landscapes. Once Geeta had explained this to me ‘Mitti Matters’ had to be the name of our latest project.

In late May 2024 colleagues from the Floodplain Meadows Partnership and the Open University had the pleasure and privilege of walking with members of the Dadima’s Community Walking Group and other walkers as a contribution to Mitti Matters.

Alongside Geeta, Open University ecologists (David Gowing, Vicky Bowskill and Emma Rothero) helped me to plan our walk together. Emma, David and Vicky led the walk on the day, sharing scientific and cultural information, and answering questions.

A group of walkers and scientists in a hay meadow.

Walkers from Dadima’s CIC, and scientists from the Open University, in a hay meadow. Credit: Sivi Sivanesan.

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Identifying, disentangling and reflecting on traditions in science communication

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

Professor Richard Holliman, The Open University.

In early May 2024 I visited the University of Aberdeen. Colleagues and I from the international PCST Network reviewed sites for the biennial conference that’s scheduled for 27-29 May 2025.

During the course of the visit I presented in a symposium on the themes of the forthcoming PCST Conference (Traditions, Transitions and Tensions) alongside old friends from the EU-funded project ENSCOT, Melanie Smallman and Declan Fahy.

My contribution to the discussion of the themes of the forthcoming PCST Conference explored traditions in science communication.

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To Astrobiology and beyond: exploring our collection on OpenLearn

Photo of Dr Ann Grand, The Open University

Dr Ann Grand, The Open University

Astrobiology is (to slightly mis-quote Douglas Adams) ‘… big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly, big it is’.

For AstrobiologyOU, the research group that I’m part of, it’s not enough to study life on Earth and in space.

Not enough to look here and on other planets and their moons for evidence that life exists or might have existed.

Nor even enough to explore the environments that support, could support or might once have supported life on Earth or elsewhere in the Universe.

If you would like to know more about the work of AstrobiologyOU and the people who are doing it, please explore the Astrobiology Collection or visit the AstrobiologyOU website.

The AstrobiologyOU Logo

The AstrobiologyOU Logo

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Reconstructing past ocean physical properties

During the summer holiday, I took part in a research placement with Dr Pallavi Anand in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at the Open University, organised by the Nuffield Foundation. The placement involved coding a MATLAB toolkit to a more accessible program such as Python that would use paleoclimate data to solve for past seawater temperature, oxygen isotope and salinity.

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Geochemistry of the deep-sea mud to understand Monsoon

Samples crushed into a fine powder.

Samples crushed into a fine powder.

This summer I went on a research experience placement with The Open University’s School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences (EEES). This was a seven-week project, funded by NERC (Natural Environment Research Council).

The project was to assist in a calibration of results obtained from deep-sea core sediment samples from two different sites around the Bay of Bengal.

The calibration is part of a wider project that my colleague, Emmeline Gray is working on for her PhD. This is looking at how the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM) behaved during a past warm period (similar to predicted future conditions) by observing how certain parameters in the sea floor sediments at these sites vary over time. This could give an insight as to how climate change might affect our oceans over time.

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Supporting a Nuffield Research Student

Sophie Alexander, The Open University.

Sophie Alexander, The Open University.

Over the summer, I mentored a Nuffield Research Student.

I was originally interested in getting involved in the scheme to gain experience in teaching and mentorship.

The student, Zaibaa, worked to complete a pilot study, the results of which are now actively informing my PhD research direction.

My time mentoring Zaibaa was really valuable; it challenged me to teach the scientific method of hypothesis testing to someone else.

Further to this, I gained experience in project management and how to give feedback – which was harder than I thought!

I’d highly recommend other PhD students consider designing and mentoring a Nuffield student in the future, particularly if you’re interested in gaining experience of supervising projects.

Dr Pallavi Anand (project providers) supported my work as my PhD supervisor. I’m grateful for the the opportunity and funding from Nuffield Foundation.