In June 2013 Geology PhD student, Natalie Farrell organised an interactive public evening in Shetland with the aim of sharing and discussing geological research. The evening, titled ‘The Geological Fabric of Shetland’, connected a variety of Shetland’s publics with current research based on the local area, and featured discussions, posters and interactive activities. This evening formed part of a field trip organised in memory of leading geologist Derek Flinn, and supported by London Geological Society.  

‘The Geological Fabric of Shetland’ was organised in association with Geopark Shetland took place in the Shetland Museum in Lerwick. The evening and ‘Geo packs’ were supported by the University of Aberdeen’s Public Engagement Enabling Fund and the Scottish Government.

The team

 Natalie Farrell, Geology and Petroleum Geology organised the public evening and talks were delivered by Natalie Farrell, Dr Dave Healy (University of Aberdeen), and Professor John Wheeler (University of Liverpool). PhD students from the University of Aberdeen, and Universities throughout the U.K also presented posters and facilitated discussions throughout the evening.  

Why did we engage?

With debates on fracking and natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes prominent in the news, it is vital that structural geology researchers communicate their results with the public. 20 geology postgraduates from 11 UK Universities  attended the lecture evening and many presented posters on their own research after the main talks. This opportunity to share their research with the public will hopefully encourage them to arrange further structural geology communication events either around their Universities or while on fieldwork.

Who benefitted?

 A variety of different groups have benefitted from this project. Firstly, local Shetlanders and tourists of a range of ages attended and enjoyed the geological talks and posters on offer, not only enhancing their knowledge and understanding of geological research but also raising public awareness of local geological heritage. 

The Scalloway Museum in Shetland also benefitted from new visitors attending via the event and the forging of new connections with experts in research areas. William Moore, from the Musuem emailed, “Thanks for the splendid evening of ‘geology for all’ in Lerwick – a really interesting, well presented programme perfectly tailored for the heterogeneous audience that we were.  Carry on the good work – and roll on your next visit!” 

As researchers at the University of Aberdeen, we have benefitted from learning to communicate complex ideas to an audience with varied levels of scientific understanding. Natalie Farrell in particular has gained transferable skills, such as event organisation and design of scientific teaching materials.

Wider Impact

Wider impact was achieved in a number of ways. Geo-packs consisting of geological informational cards were distributed with an aim of encouraging the public to explore Shetlands Geology in their own time. Further packs were distributed to 32 schools in Shetland via Geopark. It is hoped teachers who either attended the evening or received a geo-pack can use these to develop their teaching materials and enhance the curriculum. 

The local tourist information centre have also made a display using large print-outs of the geo-packs as part of the Year of Natural Scotland theme and they were seen and commended by assessors from the European Geoparks Network who came to revalidate Shetland as a member of the network in August. 

Robin Mouatt from Visit Scotland commented “As part of Year of Natural Scotland, VisitScotland has taken the opportunity to collaborate with Geopark Shetland to engage and excite visitors about the stunning geology in Shetland. With the assistance and materials provided by Natalie Farrell and the University of Aberdeen we look forward to further educating visitors about the beauty, significance and diversity of Shetland's Geology. We look forward to any future opportunities to engage further with University of Aberdeen's geological community”. 

Geopark Shetland are now interested in fostering stronger connections with Universities throughout Scotland and UK. Robina Barton from Geopark Shetland stating that, “Geopark Shetland are very keen to forge stronger links with Universities throughout Scotland and UK and looking forward to seeing these new networks form across Scotland as a result of this event”.