Hay Trans.MISSION Q&A with Chris Haughton and Dr Emily Shuckburgh

Chris Haughton and Dr Emily Shuckburgh

Chris Haughton and Dr Emily Shuckburgh

26 May 2018 by Sylvie Kruiniger

Hay Festival and NERC have joined forces for the first time to launch Trans.MISSION, project pairing leading scientists with award-winning artists to communicate cutting-edge science to new audiences at Hay Festival 2018 and beyond.

Deputy Head of the Polar Oceans Team at the British Antarctic Survey, Dr Emily Shuckburgh, a leading climate scientist, mathematician and author has been working with an award-winning designer, author and illustrator Chris Haughton (A Bit Lost, Oh No George! and Shh! We Have a Plan) to explore polar science and climate change.

Subtitles (closed captions) are available once the video is playing.

What made you interested doing this project?

Chris: I am very excited to try to visualise this research with illustration. I'm an illustrator and so I prefer to tell stories as much as possible through pictures. That's why I have focused on the youngest children, they don't yet have a full grasp of language and so respond well to picture books. I think taking this type of visual approach can work just as well in communicating to adults and older children. Climate science in particular is all quite abstract, CO2 levels and that sort of thing is invisible. I think that is one of the reasons that we the public aren't responding to the urgency of this problem.

Emily: I'm always keen on finding new innovative ways of engaging with different audiences around our scientific research - Trans.MISSION project is a fantastic example of this.

What's been the biggest surprise?

Chris: All the work they are doing is so interesting, it is incredible to think they are drilling 3km down into ice that fell as snow 800,000 years ago. It's fascinating.

Emily: I have thought a lot about how to communicate climate science to a general audience, but I was very excited to hear Chris' thoughts on how to do this.

What's been the best moment?

Chris: Going into the freezer in Cambridge with Emily and looking at 140,000 year old ice.

Emily: Chris came to visit the British Antarctic Survey where I took him into the ice core freezer to actually hold some ice core samples. He could listen to the bubbles of air, tens of thousands of years old, that are frozen in the ice and pop as the ice starts to melt. I was able to explain to him how analysis of the ice cores provides us with a history of our past climate.

What's been the most difficult?

Chris: Trying to condense all this into a few simple points.

Emily: Trying to pick which areas of climate science to highlight.

What do you hope people will take away from seeing your piece?

Chris: Ideally, I would love this to be a very short entertaining explainer on climate change that could be easily understood and shared on social media. I hope people can understand something more about the fascinating research behind it all.

Emily: I hope people will gain some insight into the excitement of doing scientific research and the importance of the findings for understanding the future of our planet.

Would you work with a scientist / an artist again?

Chris: Yes! I would love to.

Emily: Yes, of course!

What have you learnt about each other's work?

Chris: One of the things I have learnt from our conversations is how easily research can be misunderstood. It must be extremely frustrating.

Emily: Chris has a fantastic ability to take a complex topic and reduce it to a simple and clear but nevertheless comprehensive message.

See Chris and Emily at Trans.MISSION 1: Polar Science and Climate Change at 17:30 on 26 May 2018. Tickets available from the Hay Trans.MISSION website - external link.

Watch all the talks on the Hay Player - external link (free required).