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I just logged on to do a final post, summing up my Goldschmidt “take home lessons” and my experiences.  So it is indeed timely that Alex posted the link below, as I can use it to structure my Goldschmidt experiences (read on):

I think that the world of blogging, Facebook, Twitter etc can add so much to science.  Of course there is always a danger of over-reliance on virtual worlds at the expense of the conversation.  And honestly, the abovementioned tools do occasionally merit their reputation as a way to waste time.  But they can also be powerful ways to communicate with the masses and extend the reach of your message.  The case of Twitter and the Iranian elections are testament to this.  Beyond external communication, canny scientists and conference organisers can use blogging and social network sites as a way to enhance their own community.  New community members can be attracted, sub-communities can form, and debates can continue when face-to-face meeting is not possible.  In this way, the conference and the virtual world can complement each other (and carbon emissions can be saved).

Blogging for Goldschmidt has certainly enhanced my experience of the conference.  It made me pay more attention, probably helping me to stay awake at 2pm in a warm conference room after a good lunch.  I have ventured into sessions that I wouldn’t normally have gone to, and it has provided a good opening line when I wanted to speak to someone I didn’t already know and was mildly over-awed by.  But most importantly, blogging has kept me critical about what I have been learning.  I have been asking myself questions such as:  so how does this tie together?  What does this mean overall?  Didn’t X’s presentation feed into Y’s?

All of which leads me to my “take home lessons”.  Some of the work presented was micro-level, highly detailed research.  At the other end of the spectrum, presentations were given on macro-level, bigger picture work.  But all of it plays a role in managing the Earth’s resources (and securing the Earth’s future).  Everyone is writing a part of the story; either a whole chapter, or providing a detailed paragraph within that.  I think perhaps we all just need to be a little reflective and critical about how our own research fits.  And we need to be clear about communicating our work, where it feeds into the story, and where we need further detail to fill in to ours.  I think ultimately, we all implicitly know this, but it is good to be explicitly reminded sometimes; and the Goldschmidt conference reminded me.  This ties quite neatly back into the linked article from Alex; our science should be rigorous enough to withstand scrutiny (peer and public).  And scrutiny and critique by people outside our own sphere, via the internet, will help us to remain awake to our role in this bigger picture; it can only help with innovation and progression.

So, one week after I began my Goldschmidt in Davos, I am home and ending my final post.  Thank you for reading, I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have.

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As the conference winds down, Geoff Brumfiel asks some timely questions about blogging conference proceedings.

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The final day

The whole of the Congress Centre here in Davos seems to be gearing down now as the conference comes to an end.  Stands are slowly being packed away, and there are a steady stream of people heading to the train station…but the science program continues and is very well attended.

I headed this morning to a packed session on Biogeochemical Processes at Redox Interfaces.  I am frequently impressed at the amount of detail which is being entered in to in this field.  I am also taken with the amount of creativity that goes into designing the methods to study these processes.  Like a few others, I was caught out by the change in time slot for Jon Lloyd’s invited presentation on Reductive Microbial Transformations of Iron Oxides; Engineering Biominerals for the Remediation of Metals and Organics.  I hear it was very good…

Many of the faces from the sessions on Geogenic Chemicals in Soils and Groundwaters were also present in this session.  And outside the presentation room discussions were continued along this theme.  As the conference comes to an end, I guess everyone is using the last minutes to catch up with those speakers who have inspired them.  I was very fortunate in being able to eat my lunch with Linda Roberts, a PhD student who won a prize for her presentation in the Geogenic session on Wednesday.  Her paper on Arsenic Remobilization from Paddy Soil during Monsoon Flooding in Bangladesh had some really interesting detailed science.  Her study seemed to be really well informed by how the land was actually being used, and presented some interesting “real world” lessons. 

I will head off to catch my train home in a short while (probably via the poster session).  I have some overall thoughts on the conference, what I have learned and how I will apply it in my own research.  But I think these are better posted tomorrow when they have had time to become coherent.  So, watch this space for my final post…

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What a week it has been. I am sitting at the internet centre trying how best to communicate my first Goldschmidt experience.
I will begin with what the conference in based upon……the science. I have been overwhelmed by the amount of cutting edge research presented over the past five days. Being my first Goldschmidt conference, I was not entirely sure what to expect, however my expectations have been well and truly exceeded in every respect. There were too many excellent presentations and posters to single any one out, so I thank everybody whom I saw for conveying their science to me.
But this week was more than just the Science. I cannot begin to convey what it is like being in Davos with 2000 peers. The poster sessions were a great way to meet the other attendees, share research outcomes and possibilities, and most importantly drink beer and eat pretzels.… The results indicated a strong correlation (R2 =.999) between free beer and geochemist enjoyment. The banquet was a highlight with some interesting fashion sense and excellent dancing making for a great time.
A big thank you to all the organizers for such a great conference. I hope to see you next year in Knoxville.

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 On Thursday I attended the plenary talk that was given by Prof. Susan Stipp: ‘Cleaner water, more oil and taking out the garbage‘. I loved it. She started from a planetary point of view, showing how we have contaminated our home, the Earth, since the beginning of time. The rest of the talk was focused in the science that her group is carrying out to be able to solve different environmental problems and other society’s challenges. The examples she gave (ensuring cleaner water, storing waste safely, discovering the mysteries of biomineralization, getting more oil from reservoirs and immobilizing CO2) were based on the research work she is carrying out in the the Nano Science Center. They know how to deal with a scientific problem; they use really useful techniques and are an interdisciplinary group from many countries and different scientific backgrounds. That is the best approach -in my opinion- to succeed.
 At this point I would like to say that I have met some of the people from her group and also had the opportunity to work some time with one of her PhD students. I have also visited her group in Copenhagen and I found a really good and constructive working atmosphere; I was really feeling like ‘at home’ after half an hour in there. By the way, Susan is offering several positions in this website.

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• Many scientists spend their entire careers focusing on one portion of the Earth System and the majority probably retire not grasping it as well as they would have liked. A smaller portion of scientist worry about larger reservoirs; be it the oceans, the climate, mantle heterogeneities or core formation and it I think most would agree there is not a lot of consensus on processes that may have formed or modified those systems. Those who are truly, some might say out of their minds, or just have an imagination that allows them to go even on step farther ponder questions regarding the processes that formed our Solar System and planets, subsequently. With limited samples, a small amount of analyses on those samples and definitely no agreement on any single process has not slowed down researchers such as Fred Ciesla who seems to be making great strides in this area of research. I attended his Keynote talk today entitled “Reconciling Models of the Solar Nebula with the Chondritic Record” in which he attempted to do just that. Again, with a simple yet stellar (no he was not modeling stellar evolution) modeling this presentation definitely left a mark with the audience. In his model he showed the migration of large CAI-like objects that tend to be found in CV chondrites from time zero to a few million years after formation of the Solar System. With much of the debri being sucked into the young sun, he showed that the largest and oldest objects in our Solar System would be the most likely to survive and arrive in our inner Solar System quick enough to be incorporated into the CV chondrites. It will be really fascinated to see if this model can accurately predict the CAI size distribution, modal abundances and ages of other chondrites. If this is a new subject to a reader, Fred Ciesla and his work is what I would reference you to.

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Today’s lecture on the Ocean Anoxic Events (OAE’s) and the geochemistry of extinction begged the question: who controls the Earth?  Are the combined anoxic events and associated C13 events imply that geology – for example, magmatism – is a driver of primary production, or are the events evidence of the evolution of key characteristics in phytoplankton and other organisms?

This is an important question for my work on the Proterozoic, especially the Neoproterozoic.  During the Paleoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic, large d13C isotope excursions are seen in both the organic carbon and carbonate records.  But do these reflect novel characteristics of organisms – for example, increased sinking of organic matter in the form of feces, or the rise of oxygenic phototrophs – or are the organisms being driven by forces outside their control?

Generally, I support the idea that the biology of Earth is at the mercy of Earth’s geology – that major events in the evolution of life and the chemistry of the oceans was driven not by new characteristics in the constituent organims, but by things such as magmatism and climate.  However, this is obviously a heuristic argument – climate, for example, is driven not only by the release of CO2 and methane from hydrothermal vents, but also by the amount of CO2 sequestered by organisms dying, sinking and being buried in the ocean.

So I’m leaving this question open to others: who is the real strongman of Earth?  Biology or geology?

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I spent my morning in session 15i on Geogenic Chemicals in Groundwaters and Soils.  I was going to blog about the content…but I was the last presenter in the morning session, and spent much of the morning just getting nervous.  So it passed in a bit of a blur.  I can’t even remember much about my own presentation.

Instead, I will do a bit of a summary of what I have been doing away from the presentations.  The week has been packed full of things… Before coming I looked at the schedule, and thought I would have some empty time.  But it hasn’t really worked out that way J. As usual, I still had a fair bit of work to do on my presentation this week.  So any snatched moments were spent on this, and it is a relief that I have now presented.  In addition, the research network that funds me has been using Goldschmidt as a network meeting event.  So I have had meetings with the fellow researchers, and with the management committee.  This has kept me fairly busy.  But it has also provided a strong social element as we all get on well and have been enjoying catching up over dinner in the evening.  Like many, I also went along to the conference dinner last night.  The food was great, and it was good to chat to a range of people, including professors that I haven’t run in to since my undergraduate days.

The social element is really important at conferences.  Its nice to be able to relax after a long day of presentations.  But sometimes some very constructive work conversations take place unexpectedly after a beer or two…

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I had the luck of attending two of Ken Nealson’s talks “back to back.” First, in the last talk of session 16e on Wednesday, he discussed the survival and growth of microorganisms in ultrabasic environments. There is an exposed peridotite north of San Francisco, and the calcium in the peridotite causes the formation of calcium hydroxide. This leads to soil pHs around 10.5; subsurface, anaerobic waters have pH closer to 11.5. Despite this inhospitable environment, in the absence of any good electron acceptor besides magnetite (Fe3O4), with essentially no sulfate or monovalent cations, bacteria find a way to eek out an existence. Their identification is difficult, and Nealson’s group is on the cutting edge, using single-cell genomics as an identifying tool. His keynote talk this morning, in session 17j: The Genomics of Geochemistry, revealed many of the problems in using genetic data to predict both the types and functions of microorganisms. Within a single species (Nealson is well-known for his work with Pseudomonas shewanella), separate strains of the same species vary genomically by at least 35% from each other. As an example, he mentioned that some strains reduce metals, where others do not…and this is the exact same species! So, using a broad-brush approach of saying, “I have this species in my sample, therefore it will do X.” is a bad approach. He also emphasized a huge problem in identifying single species accurately in natural consortia of microorganisms. The approach used here, metagenomics, can effectively assemble the genomes of 2 or 3 bacteria in the same sample, so it will work for some of these extreme environments where only a few species are present. However, in most natural systems, there exists a complex mixture of microorganisms, and metagenomics is essentially hopeless, at least at present. This single-cell approach he discussed may be a solution, because the more reference genomes we have for different species, the better chance we can model more complex mixtures.

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The Earth’s Future

Yesterday afternoon I really enjoyed the Earth’s Future plenary.  The group of speakers provided a highly thought-provoking, and well presented series of talks.  We heard about the challenges of presenting science to policy makers, as well as the challenges presented to scientists in order to secure the Earth’s future.  So overall, the theme was on the research we need to do, who we need to present it to, and how.  I felt a lot more on home ground during this plenary as environmental policy is my area of research.  I am excited that the topic was brought into this conference programme.  In only mentioning the talks of Sir David King and Bill Chameides I do not want to detract from Veerabhadran Ramanathan and Janet Hering.  Their talks were captivating.  But I want to blog about the thoughts of King and Chameides on presenting science to policy makers.

They made eloquent arguments about how we must learn to package research to policy makers in order that it can be considered in decision making.  This is a whole area of research in itself, and I personally have enjoyed the work of Baumgartner and Jones, and Sabatier on this topic.

I was disappointed not to have the opportunity to ask the question I wanted to ask, as it builds on this base.  So, I will ask it here:  The panel talks of getting science onto the policy agenda.  However, my own research (and that of many others), shows that effective management of the environment is also about ensuring implementation of this policy.  There are many political, historical and social barriers to ensuring implementation.  I would argue that this creates a role for social science and physical science to work together on this issue.  Does the panel agree?  And if so, how do they think we can foster such multi-disciplinarity?

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