A few months ago I had an idea for a new stall to help explain our research to the general public, themed around life in extreme environments. With the help of a team of volunteers and some funding from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Microbiology Society I was able to run the event for the first time at Discover Space, the public engagement area of the UK Space Conference 2017.
Visitors were able to handle extreme microorganisms including bacteria that only live where no oxygen is present and algae that can grow in nuclear fuel storage ponds, as well as looking at them under a microscope. The rocks and minerals that can support microbial life were a big hit, but the stars of the show were the 1.5 billion year old banded iron formation that records the oxygenation of the Earth’s atmosphere after the evolution of photosynthesis in cyanobacteria, and the 600+ million year old stromatolite which is thought to represent the oldest multicellular life in the British isles. The visitors also played ‘pin the tail’ on the conditions for life and put together the jigsaw of the elements that are essential for life. More than 1,500 people had registered for the two day event, and hopefully some of them left with a greater understanding of the amazingly diverse environments that life exists in on Earth, and how this knowledge can help us in our search for extra-terrestrial life.