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Ulster Museum

Dippy In-Depth – Can we escape extinction?

In partnership with the NI Science Festival, this event features expert speakers as they grapple with humanity’s future - exploring our impact on the planet and how we might avoid disaster.

Thu 15 Nov 2018 - Thu 29 Nov 2018

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Dippy, our special guest at the Ulster Museum, became extinct some 65 million years ago. Is humankind doomed to the same fate? Or is there still time to escape extinction? In partnership with NI Science Festival, we have teed up a group of the most exciting science communicators and researchers from across UK & Ireland to challenge our thinking and inspire us into action.

Hosted in Ulster Museum’s lecture theatre and compered by award-winning science communicator Emer Maguire, our speakers will tackle three themes – Water, Earth, Air – across three evenings.


  • 6-6.45pm – Bar will be open. Have a drink with Dippy.
  • 7-7.35pm – 1st speaker (20 mins each with 10 mins Q&A time)
  • 7.40-8.10pm - 2nd speaker
  • 8.10-8:40pm – Interval & refreshments
  • 8:45-9:15pm – 3rd speaker
  • 9.20-9.50pm - 4th speaker
  • 9:50-10pm – closing remarks

Tickets are £6 per evening. Pre-booking is essential.


Water - 15 November

Resilient Reefs: How the biogeochemistry and physiology of corals and algae can be used to improve the management of our coastal seas.

Dr Heidi Burdett, Research Fellow, Heriot-Watt University

Blue-seas research: predators & prey in an ever-changing system: Pressure upon marine systems continues to mount year on year. Complex issues as overfishing, pollution and climate change seamlessly interweave to bring about wholesale shifts in marine communities over regional and global scales. The challenge facing marine scientists is not only to identify when such changes have occurred, but to do so before it is too late. Within this context we will consider how top-predators can act early warning systems or ‘indicators’ for biologists and unravel how such species locate their prey in a vast and ever-changing environment.

Dr Jonathan Houghton, Senior Lecturer, Queen’s University Belfast

Connected Waters – our aquatic ecosystems in a changing world: How barriers in human-modified landscapes affect fish dispersal, and how understanding how different species move through their environment helps to guide policy.

Dr Steph Januchowski-Hartley, Research Fellow, University of Swansea

Did dirty water kill off Dippy?: Emer Murnaghan is a Chartered Civil Engineer, a Chartered Environmentalist and a Chartered Member of the Institute of Water. A passionate supporter of the industry, Emer enjoys a long association with the ICE stretching as far back as 2008 when she was the Assistant Regional Director of ICE Northern Ireland for a two-year term. Recognised for actively raising the profile of civil engineering, she was first elected to the ICE Council in 2012 and in November 2018 became a Vice President and member of the ICE Trustee Board in London. She is also a Vice Chair of ICE Northern Ireland. In June 2015, Emer was awarded the OBE for services to civil engineering and further education in Northern Ireland.

Emer Murnaghan OBE CEng MICE CEnv MIWO, Head of Sustainable Business, GRAHAM Construction


Air - 22 November

Are insects our saviours in a warming world? Chris is a science communicator, and was a researcher at the University of Oxford specialising in insect ecology and the effects of climate change on tropical forests, the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.

Dr Chris Jeffs, British Ecological Society

Death from above – will the universe kill me? There is a small but finite chance that the Universe will kill you, and take all that stress away. What will it be? Asteroid impact, solar flare, or death ray from a neutron star? Modern science has progressed to the stage where we can calculate these chances, weigh them up, and decide whether to blow that pension pot. Professor Alan Fitzsimmons from the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast will be laying down the odds.

Professor Alan Fitzsimmons, Queen’s University Belfast

Volcanoes and air pollution: Evgenia Ilyinskaya is a volcanologist at the University of Leeds. She researches emissions of gases and aerosol particles from active volcanoes. Volcanic emissions can be a warning signal of volcanic eruptions, but also impact air quality, the environment and health.

Dr Evgenia Ilyinskaya, Research Fellow, Leeds University

Wind Energy Grid Interconnectivity: Kingsley is a Chartered Engineer through the Institution of Civil Engineers and a Chartered Manager through the Chartered Management Institute. He holds a master’s degree with Distinction in Subsea Structural Engineering from the University of Aberdeen and a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Port Harcourt. Kingsley has extensive experience in structural dynamics, with particular expertise in the analysis and design of subsea riser systems, telecommunications and renewable wind farm structures, structural monitoring and integrity.

Kingsley Sunday UKO, KA Engineering Group


Earth - 29 November

Volcanoes: from fuming vents to extinction events: In this talk, volcanologist Tamsin Mather will explore the tension between volcanic destruction and volcanoes as part of our planetary-scale life support system. She will also discuss what causes volcanism on planet Earth, why some erupt more explosively than others and what it is like to work on an active volcano.

Tamsin Mather, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford

When aliens attack….Antarctica!: Antarctica is the last great wilderness on Earth: remote, wild and extreme, not a lot is able to live there. It is the least colonised continent on the planet. But an increase in human activity and climate change is changing this and alien plants and animals are being introduced….and some are staying. Antarctica, is being invaded!

Jes is an ecologist, which means she uses zoology, botany, animal physiology, environmental science, a bit of soil chemistry, a dash of maths and general wistful thinking to answer questions about how ecosystems work, all whilst looking at beautiful landscapes. Jes thinks that working out how all the interactions and connections that make nature what it is, is the biggest question she could possibly ask the planet. And especially in places like the Arctic and Antarctic, or up mountains, where ecosystems are the most sensitive to change.

Jesamine Bartlett – PhD student and polar ecologist, University of Birmingham & British Antarctic Survey

Why plants haven’t conquered the land: Facing up to Climate Change: Plants have done a pretty good job at colonising the planet – or have they? Jeremy Pritchard discusses the setbacks they’ve faced and how humankind is modifying them to be more tolerant to such issues as drought and pests.

Professor Jeremy Pritchard, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham

Engineering the Earth: Using personal experience and drawing on local and global engineering examples, Ryan will give an insight into geology, ground investigations, contaminated land, earthworks, geotechnical design & sustainability in infrastructure.

Ryan is a geotechnical engineer with Arup Belfast, Ryan has varied experience in a range of infrastructure projects with specific interests and skills in geotechnical design and construction. He also has experience with land contamination issues on various projects such as site redevelopment including historical landfills and infrastructure schemes.

Ryan Murray - Geotechnical Engineer, ARUP

About the compere

Emer Maguire is an award-winning science communicator and presenter. She has won best science communicator in the UK (2015), as well as a world science communication title at the International Science Stars competition (2017). She is also the host of her own BBC Radio Ulster show, ‘Science and Stuff with Emer Maguire’ and wildlife series ‘Wild North’. Emer has previous experience as a TEDx speaker and compere for Catalyst Inc’s 4th Industrial Revolution series