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ROV Testing Session

The wonderings of an engineering student

Today we are featuring a guest post from Jun Wei Fan – a naval architecture student who tells us about his experience with the Newcastle University Marine Projects Society.

rover (noun) a person who spends their time wandering

Towards the end of my first academic year, I found myself wondering – how do I make my time in university more fulfilling? It felt as though there was just something lacking from my life. Lost, I was. That was until I made an impromptu decision to run for President of the Newcastle University Marine Projects Society, succeeding and becoming Team Captain of the Newcastle University ROVers. Perhaps it’s no mere coincidence that I joined the ROVers to both start and stop roving – as in start building ROVs and stop wandering around aimlessly like a lost soul.

At this point, the unacquainted might be puzzled. What’s a ROV? Who are the ROVers? Well, simply put, the Newcastle University ROVers is a competitive team comprising members of the Newcastle University Marine Projects Society coming together to build a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). 

We started off with our roots within the Marine, Offshore and Subsea Technology group. Initially, the competitions we partook in were very marine-centric and teams comprised of only Marine Technology students, but in the years since, we’ve evolved to take on bigger, more challenging projects. In line with the new integrated School of Engineering, and the Head of School’s (Prof. Phil Taylor) encouragement of interdisciplinary projects, the Marine Projects Society now cherishes the benefits of working in multidisciplinary teams. This has allowed us to harness the full potential of each member from the various field of engineering! Rather than having marine tech students attempting to do everything from ground up, we are now able to draw upon the expertise of students from computing/electrical/mechanical/etc., accomplishing more at a faster pace.

3D CAD model of ROV
Computer Aided Design (CAD) Model of the ROV

In the outside world, employers expect graduates to work in interdisciplinary teams, leveraging on the complementary skill sets of each individual. In university however, us students are, more often than not, confined to working within our respective courses. And that is why the Marine Projects Society has embraced Prof. Taylor’s vision for a truly integrated School of Engineering, with students and faculty working seamlessly across disciplines to produce ground-breaking solutions.

Joining the society has given me the unique opportunity to experience what it’s like to work with other engineers and to understand their concerns; and working on the ROV project has forced me to take a broader view of matters at hand. In the past year, I’ve learnt how to fully consider the different aspects of an engineering project and as Captain, I’ve had to balance conflicting demands from the different sub-teams (electrical, marine, mechanical, systems) to achieve the optimum solution for the ROV.

Team enjoying dinner after a work session
The Team out for a late-night dinner after a long work session

The ROV project has also taught me many valuable skills and lessons – things which you’ll find hard-pressed to pick up in your daily lectures – but most importantly, it has allowed me to become a practical engineer. Theory is indeed important and as engineers, when we set out to design something, we too rely on theoretical knowledge to produce an initial design. But you’ll find that many things often work theoretically and yet fail in reality. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the notion of producing the perfect design.

Realistically speaking however, a number of different factors will hinder one’s ability to achieve that grandeur. Budget, size, material availability, these are all limitations that affected us while designing & building the ROV – and these challenges will differ from project to project! But learning how to work within and around these constraints has allowed all of us to become better engineers, engineers who are not just tied down by theory but are capable of thinking on our feet, adapting to changing circumstances. 

The internal electronics of the ROV
Internal Electronics of the ROV sitting inside our watertight housing

One of the reasons why we chose to embark on this ROV project is the unique set of challenges associated with designing something for prolonged operation in water. Water is a harsh and unforgiving environment, something us Marine Tech students will gladly tell you all about. It’s also common knowledge that water and electricity don’t mix well, which is why our team spent considerable efforts to make sure everything was watertight, and waterproof where we were unable to keep water out. This involved extensive use of O-Rings, silicon grease, stinky epoxy, coating of exposed elements with resin, and slathering sealing points with more disgusting pump grease than we’d like to admit. All that was critical in ensuring that no water could come into contact with electricity for risk of rendering the entire water body live and electrocuting ourselves.

The ROV ready for testing in our towing tank 
The ROV ready for testing in our towing tank

But all that would not have been possible without a few key people. Having a dedicated advisor to guide us on this project was vital in ensuring that we could come as far as we did. Dr Maryam Haroutunian went above and beyond in her role, always setting aside time to advise us and listen to our updates and to join us on testing sessions. She even came back to the labs on a weekend just so we could drop the ROV into the water for ballasting and test runs!

We also have the hydrolabs team to thank for helping us with the more technical construction aspects and for tolerating us. Special mention goes to Bob Hindhaugh and Ian Howard-Row for their continued support in allowing us to use the hydrodynamics laboratory’s facilities and for offering insights from their wealth of experience, and for allowing us the freedom to exercise our creativity even when you know some ideas might not work out ultimately.

The Team during an overnight work session
The Team during an overnight worksession

But, it’s not just all work and no fun! (although work can be equally fun if you’re passionate about it) Members of the Marine Projects Society also had the unique chance to interact with the industry. The society hosted a talk by Nick Ridley, Principal Engineer of Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD), and we also got the chance to visit SMD for a site tour and see how they build ROVs up close. Both the talk and the trip gave our team some inspiration and guidance on designing ROVs, and was a delightful experience for all whom attended!

Site Visits to SMD 
Site Visits to SMD
More from the site visit to SMD
More from the site visit to SMD

Throughout this amazing journey, our team has gained valuable experience and knowledge that we now treasure deeply. Armed with this, we’re looking forward to the academic year 2018/19, where we hope to take the society to greater heights! In the pipeline are projects such as the ROV2.0 and other exciting (but still pending) ideas such as a Solar Car/Boat. It is our greatest wish that many new engineers will join us for a thrilling year of roving!

ROV Testing Session For myself, I’m equally exhilarated about starting on Stage 3 – a year where we begin to specialise in more advanced Naval Architecture concepts and reinforce our fundamentals through design projects and more. If anything, working on the ROV project has enhanced my desire to master not just the relevant technical know-how but also the interpersonal skills necessary for working on interdisciplinary projects after graduation! That is something I feel all Engineers should possess!

Sugar Awareness Week

Graduate Ambassador, James Cheng, gives us an insight into the sweet substance that we all love so much for Sugar Awareness Week.

What is sugar?

In society, sugar is commonly known as a sweet granular-like substance used in many foods. Children often cannot get enough of it and our perception of sweet is generally accepted as an evolutionary adaptation that draws us to high energy foods sources that were historically scarce.

The issue that our population now face is that since we have mastered the environment around us, we can cultivate and refine foods high in sugar that appeal to our evolutionary biology. This causes many problems since our bodies have not evolved to cope with high levels of sugar consumption.

The body can easily work with sugar, directing it where energy is needed while also being able to store the energy away as fat when in excess hence why too much is bad. Compared to the long complex structure of carbohydrates, your body doesn’t spend quite so much time processing these short sugar chains so the energy inside is readily available.

Why is it sweet?

Similar to how we evolved to taste many harmful substances as bitter to instinctively avoid its consumption, it is believed that the association of sugar and the sweet taste is a positive attractant making us want to eat more. This in part is linked with the reward pathway leading in the brain, releasing a chemical called dopamine which scientists have found to be associated with addiction.

Children Love Sugar!

It’s common knowledge that children have a particularly strong craving for sugar compared to adults. This observation has scientific merit, with researchers showing newly born children prefer sweet tastes. This is believed to naturally attract them to their mother’s milk. This preference is maintained up to adulthood at which point the attraction to sweet foods decline, coinciding with when you stop growing. Newborns respond to even dilute sweet tastes, differentiate varying degrees of sweetness, and, given the choice, will consume more of a sugar solution than water. This behaviour has also been observed in other mammals and it is believed that sweet preference is associated with a need for more calories. It’s important to point out that increased intake of sugar is not an appropriate method to increase calories.

The Tooth about Teeth

A high sugar diet correlates with increased tooth decay. It is a common misconception that sugar is direct responsible for teeth decay. What actually happens is that the bacteria on your teeth, such as Streptococcus mutans, release minute amounts of acid. This slowly breaks down the structure of the enamel gaining access to the dentine below, subsequently causing tooth sensitivity and decay. A high sugar environment for the bacteria on the teeth leads to their increased growth and therefore increased acid release.

While an apple and a glass of apple juice might equate to the same amount of sugar in terms of your diet, an apple is much healthier for your teeth. Biting and swallowing chunks of apple means that sugar will be trapped in the structure of the apple pieces effectively bypassing contact with your teeth, however drinking a glass of apple juice means that your teeth are exposed to all the sugar. Whole fruit has a whole plethora of benefits over juice.

Sweet isn’t so innocent

In moderate consumption lots of research has shown that in infants, immediately after tasting sweet solutions they exhibit positive emotional reactions and can even trigger automatic responses leading to relaxation of agitated infants.

Lots of research has been ongoing about the effects of sugar on the body and it has been well established that an increase or decrease in sugar is associated with a parallel change in body weight. As such the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend less than 10% of our total energy intake should be derived from sugar. Furthermore a high fat and sugar diet has been shown to promote muscle breakdown, inflammation and impaired glucose transport that eventually leads to Type II diabetes.

Visit Sugar.org to learn more about the History of Sugar!

Happy GIS Day!

Our Outreach Officer and Geoscience expert, Dr. Pippa Cowles, explains everything you need to know about GIS for GIS Day.

Today is GIS Day, GIS I hear you say what is that? You may have heard of it in your geography class before. GIS stands for Geographic Information System and connects geography with data – lots and lots of data! It helps us understand what belongs where and looks at data connected to a particular location.

Data can be anything from maps, aerial photos, satellite imagery to spreadsheets. GIS allows all these data types to be laid on top of one another on a single map. It uses location as the common point to relate all these data set together.

GIS can help supermarkets plan where to open a new store, help the police analyse crime patterns, or help aid vehicles get to a location using the fastest route.

GIS lets us create, manage and analyse geospatial data and visualise the results on a map to help us make more informed decisions.

Explore the relationship between Earthquakes, Plate tectonics and Volcanoes using GIS here.

What does it show? What information is stored about the Earthquakes and Volcanoes?

Find out more about GIS day and how you can book a free Introduction to GIS workshop for your school.

 

 

International Asteroid Day!

What is an asteroid?

You may be wondering what the difference is between an asteroid, meteor, meteorite and every other name given to a shooting star or flying clump of rock in space. Well we have broken it down into an answer that is simple….. Sort of. It all starts with an asteroid.

An asteroid is a large rocky (planet looking) body, in orbit of the sun, that is too small to be classified as a planet. In space there are millions of asteroids and lots of them are a potential threat to Earth. Asteroids range in size from hundreds of miles to several feet in diameter.

A meteoroid is a particle of an meteoroid that has broken off and is now orbiting the sun. If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere it is then known as a meteor. A meteor shower is a group of meteoroids all travelling in parallel trajectories from one point in space. Most meteors burn up when they are travelling through our atmosphere and therefore never hit the earth’s surface. The meteors that do hit earth are called meteorites.

Asteroid defence?

Over the past 4.5 billion years since the Earth was formed, about 4.5 billion meteors (the sizes of cars) have made their way through its atmosphere. Yes, that’s around one automobile sized meteor every year. Although, these are meteors and not meteorites, therefore they create a substantial fireball but burn out before hitting the ground.

Scientists these days are able to tell if an asteroid or meteor is en route to earth 30-40 years before it does. This is enough time for us to destroy it before it destroys us. We can do this by exploding the asteroid or meteor, although sometimes we can divert them away from earth instead.

When is the next meteor shower?

Unfortunately you will have to wait a couple months for our next meteor shower, it is called Perseid and will be peaking in our skies on the 12- 13th of August. In order to get the most out of your meteor shower view, we recommend getting out into the middle of nowhere where there is little to no light pollution; bringing a friend or your family and a warm blanket (also a telescope if you’ve got one). Once you’re comfortable, sit tight and wait for the spectacular starry show!

Visit asteroidday.org to find out more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Women in Engineering Day | #INWED18

Over the past few years there has been a global push to engage more women and girls in science and engineering in order to reduce the gender imbalance within the STEM industries. However, more still needs to be done to encourage and support women as they enter a STEM career and to highlight the valuable contributions women make to the field.

To celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, we spoke to some of the wonderful engineers at Newcastle University to find out why they decided to pursue a career in engineering…

Inspired to pursue a career in Engineering? Find out more about our undergraduate Engineering degrees here.

The Importance of Combating Desertification and Drought

The 17th June marks the United Nation’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. The day serves as a reminder of the international efforts taking place to combat land degradation – these efforts are incredibly important to the livelihood of not only a huge number of ecosystems, but to millions of humans worldwide.

Desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas. Degradation processes can be fueled by a number of factors, including temperature and rainfall changes resulting from climate change and human-induced drivers of change such as soil erosion.

As the land begins to degrade, the benefits it once provided begin to diminish and the climate can be affected due to “many forms of land degradation releasing carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.”

Research conducted by Professor Mark Reed, Newcastle University, and Professor Lindsay Stringer of University of Leeds highlights how the effects of climate change may be far greater for the world’s poorest people than previously feared due to the devastating consequences desertification can have on food production.

“It’s easy to think of land degradation as a problem of the developing world that doesn’t affect us here in the UK,” explains Professor Reed, Professor of Socio-Technical Innovation at Newcastle University.

“But if we continue to lose productive forests and rangelands around the world, then the carbon that they once locked up will be released into the atmosphere where it’ll drive further loss of productive ecosystems and more climate change.

“This will leave even more people vulnerable to the combined effects of climate change and land degradation.

“It’s a vicious cycle and one that will affect everyone living on the planet if we don’t start doing more to avoid runaway climate change by properly looking after our land.”

In order to tackle this problem, Professors Reed and Stringer explain that we need a more collaborative approach between researchers, local communities and international policy-makers to create timely and cost effective solutions.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s agricultural research here.

Pacific discoveries show wealth of life still present in our oceans

To celebrate #WorldOceansDay we hear from Dr Alan Jamieson and Dr Thom Linley about their most recent exciting discoveries in the deepest parts of the Pacific.

We live in a time where the marine environment is rarely reported in the media without mention of the negative impacts of human activity.  As important as this awareness is, we must be conscience that it does not overshadow the beauty and splendour of the oceans and the fascinating research being done in science and exploration.

One of the last great frontiers in marine science are the deepest places on Earth, the Hadal Trenches, mostly located around the Pacific rim in areas where tectonic plates collide and plunge the seafloor to depths close to 11,000 metres (~7 miles).

Groundbreaking technology

At Newcastle University, we have been pioneering technology for the exploration of these ultra-deep environments and have to date completed nearly 250 deployments of their ‘lander’ systems. Recently we embarked on an expedition on board the German Research vessel Sonne to the Atacama Trench in the SE Pacific off the coast of Peru and Chile where we deployed our baited camera system 27 times across the depths of the trench including the deepest point, Richards Deep, at just over 8000 metres.

On our previous missions the group have amassed multiple successes such as obtaining the first ever video footage of fish in the hadal zone (greater than 6000m deep), and video the deepest living fishes in many Pacific trenches and more recently, described the deepest fish in the world.

Life in the deep

These record breaking fishes are of the Liparidae family, commonly known as snailfishes.  They are small, semi-transparent, pink in colour with small black eyes and do not conform to the preconceived stereotypical image of what a deep-sea fish should look like.  In fact they look and behave a lot like their shallow water counterparts, some of which can be found in estuarine systems, even the River Tyne.

The Atacama Trench expedition produced a wealth of new information about the species inhabiting these extreme depths which is also interesting in that the trench is very isolated from the other Pacific deeps, by ~12,000 kilometres of deep sea floor.

Discovery of new species

Perhaps the most fascinating result of the latest expedition was the discovery of three new species of snailfish living between 6500 and 7500 metres. These species are so new they haven’t been officially classified yet and are currently affectionately known as the pink, blue and purple Atacama snailfishes. We obtained hours of footage of these new snailfish swimming, foraging, preying upon small crustaceans, and on one dive filmed all three in a single video.

We also filmed some astonishingly rare footage of long-legged isopods, known as Munnopsids, which are about the size of a hand. These crustaceans have small bodies, extraordinary long legs and swim backwards and upsides down, propelling themselves with paddles on their ventral sides before righting themselves on the seafloor and spreading their long walking legs out like a spider. What species these are is unknown.

The discovery of so many new species of fish and these large isopods, and capturing it all on high definition video from one expedition, is testament to the progress that is being made at the extreme marine frontiers. Discoveries like these are a reminder that the ocean is a big place and there is still a lot to learn, to find and to celebrate.

Links for more information

For more information about the marine research that we carry out at Newcastle University, visit our webpages.

Information about Dr Alan Jamieson’s work

Information about Dr Thom Linley’s work

Eight Days at Seathwaite Valley

A vital part of many of our courses at Newcastle University is practical work; giving student’s the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge is essential in helping them to progress. Today, Geomatics student, Sheoma Richards, tells us about her experience of a field trip to Seathwaite Valley.

Every year first year students on the Geomatics courses embark on an eight-day field course to Seathwaite Valley in the Lake District. The purpose of this trip is to allow students to practice the stills learnt in a lecture room to accomplish real world tasks. The overall aim was to produce a detailed topographic and contour map of a given area by triangulation, levelling, traversing and detailing.

Day 1

We arrived to Glaramara House which was our base where we would process our data, have meals and spend the night. GIS (Geographical Information Systems) students set out to create a sampling regime to capture soil moisture values and analyze these values based on a quantitative and qualitative hypothesis against soil moisture. SMS (Surveying and Mapping Science) students practiced setting up a total station, taking angle measurements and completed a two-peg test. We all had an evening lecture and then savored one of the many astounding three-course dinners provided by the hotel.

Day 2

GIS students collected their points and returned to the hotel to upload and process them for analysis. SMS students occupied a specific control station and sited to other visible stations within the triangulation network. They also drew a witness diagram for the station that they occupied and created abstract sheets for horizontal and vertical angles.

Dr. David Fairbairn using a Leica Zenos.

Day 3

GIS students presented their findings and proceeded to Seathwaite Valley to measure 12 rounds of observations for horizontal angles. SMS students did levelling at the valley to confirm that the values from OSBM remained unchanged over the years. In the evening, all Geomatics students were now joined and divided into four groups to establish a control network scheme. The Lake District showed us its true potential as we were showered with rain for that entire day.

Day 4

To my surprise, we were greeted by a bright yellow object in the sky that we definitely did not expect to see. A set-up challenge was performed to determine the location that each group would have to survey. Group two celebrated as they proved to be victorious on this challenge and were able to get the first choice. After the challenge was over, each group went to their respective sites with ranging rods to complete reconnaissance. We headed back to the center for lunch and later returned to the valley to start traversing. We placed pegs into the ground to create the control stations and drew witness diagrams to be able to locate them for future reference.

Nominated member of each group performing the set-up challenge.

Day 5

At first, we were very worried that we would not be able to do any traversing as there was thick fog everywhere! However, a few minutes after arriving to the valley, the fog suddenly vanished, making way for the sun. We continued our traverse observations and computed our traverse for horizontal and vertical misclosures. Levelling was also completed to known benchmarks to make sure that our vertical values of two stations matched those of the OSBM.

Day 6

Despite the soggy weather, more levelling was done, and groups began to detail points of their site to be able to map the area. These detail points were entered into a spreadsheet to generate the coordinates of each point for plotting. We also created 2D and 3D excel spreadsheets of our traverse observations.

Levelling through the rainy weather.

Day 7

Groups continued to detail while some members remained at the hotel to start the process of plotting. Later that evening, we were visited by two representatives from Leica Geosystems who demonstrated some of their software and equipment to us. One of the representatives was a past student of Newcastle University and also educated us on life beyond Geomatics.

Day 8

There was a set-up competition between the representatives from Leica Geosystems and two staff members. The winner was Dr. Mills who currently holds the record for the fastest set-up time! We proceeded with our plotting while some members got additional information for detailing. Once the plotting was completed, it was impressive to see the finished product of a topographic and contour map of Seathwaite Valley for each site. As a feeling of contentment came over us, reality struck when we realized that this meant we would be leaving tomorrow morning.

Representatives from Leica Geosystems competing against two staff members for set-up competition.

Although it was eight days filled with work, it was one of the most enjoyable things that I have done on the course thus far. I would advise prospective students to make the most of this field course and appreciate the method of processing by hand. Only when you understand what is done by the instrument and software, would you truly understand what you are doing. If you are looking for a degree course that not only teaches you what you need to know but also challenges you to think outside the box, Newcastle University’s Geomatics courses are for you!

Find out more about Newcastle University’s Geomatics courses here.

International Day for Biological Diversity

With threats to wildlife constantly increasing, conservation policies are being put in place in order to protect biodiversity. However, with limited resources available, these policies have to attempt to prioritise certain species according to their “value”. New research, led by Newcastle University, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the British Trust for Ornithology, has shown that prioritising based only on one key species “value” could put some of our best loved wildlife at risk.

The research, which focuses on UK farmland birds, categorises according to three core values – conservation priority value, economic value (consumers of weed-seeds) and cultural value, measured through poetry.

Mark Whittingham, Professor of Applied Ecology at Newcastle University, explains:

“Considering one value in isolation gives you a very skewed picture of what’s important and what isn’t.

“Birds such as the chaffinch might consume large numbers of weed seeds which helps farmers, but they aren’t rare and compared to other species they barely feature in poetry.

“Conversely, the crow isn’t rare and isn’t particularly useful for eating weed seeds but we found it features frequently in poems down the ages which suggests it is intrinsically linked with society and culture. The question is how you put a ‘value’ on this.”

Professor Whittingham says that although this study only looks at a small selection of the potential ways individual species can be valued for different purposes, based on the evidence the more values that are considered the more species are likely to be important.

“Prioritisation makes sense when you have scarce resources but there is an inherent danger that by going down that route we take our eye off those species that are just as valuable to us but in less tangible ways.

“What we have demonstrated is that the more ‘values’ you take into account the more you realise that every species is important and has a part to play and so we need to be considering this in our policies and strategies for natural resource management and future planning.”

Protecting biodiversity is a pressing issue with habitats and species being lost at a devastating rate. Ensuring that the most valuable species are prioritised is vital to the success of certain conservation policies,  however, as Newcastle University research proves, placing “value” on a species can be a tricky process and a whole range of things need to be considered in order to best grasp the impact an animal has both culturally and environmentally.

Find out more about Newcastle University’s ecology and conservation research here.

Meet the Expert | Dr Richard Bevan, From Penguins to Puffins

Today, we talk to Newcastle University’s Dr Richard Bevan about where his research has taken him throughout his career. In order to better understand the overall ecology of animals, Richard Bevan’s research focuses on the way that animals interact with their environment both physiologically and behaviourally. Richard’s specific areas of study include: the physiology, ecology and behaviour of aquatic animals; foraging behaviour of seabirds; animal conservation.

   

Describing how his career began, Dr Bevan says: “Born and bred in the valleys of South Wales, I ventured to the north of the country to take Zoology at Bangor University. After completing my BSc, I spent a couple of years in Denmark working on an animation film, “Valhalla”, before returning to the UK to start my PhD on the physiology of swimming and diving in aquatic vertebrates (Tufted Ducks, Barnacle Geese and Green Turtles) at Birmingham University.”

Luckily, Richard finished his PhD at the right time to take up a post-doctoral position studying the energetics  of the higher Antarctic predators. This involved him spending three summer seasons on Bird Island, South Georgia on a joint project between Birmingham University and the British Antarctic Survey. This small island, just 4.9km long and 800m wide, is home to hundreds of thousands of birds – making it one of the world’s richest wildlife sites. Among it’s diverse population of wildlife, it is home to some 50,000 breeding pairs of penguins and 65,000 pairs of fur seals. Richard spent his time on the island studying Gentoo Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses and Antarctic Fur Seals.

Richard continued to study penguins and other seabirds, but moved on from Bird Island: “This was followed by a project studying King Penguins on Possession Island, Crozet Archipelago; a joint project between Birmingham University and CNRS. I then spent a couple of years as a Principal Scientific Officer with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust in Slimbridge where I was in charge of the their fish-eating birds research (mainly inland Cormorants and Goosanders).”

“In 1998, I moved to Newcastle to take up my position as lecturer in what was the School of Biology, Newcastle University. It was early in the new millennium that I first became involved with the Farne Islands and I have been conducting research on the birds (Puffins, Shags, Arctic Terns, Kittiwakes etc.) and grey seals since then.”

Much closer to home than the likes of Bird Island or Possession Island, the Farne Islands are just a few miles from the coast of Northumberland. Touted by David Attenborough as one of his favourite places in the UK to see “magificent nature”, the Farne Islands are rich in wildlife. The Farne Islands are one of the best places to see and study puffins, now a red listed bird, meaning that there has been a severe decline in the population of puffins over the last 25 years. Some of Richard’s research on the Farne Islands has involved attaching hi-tech tags, which include GPS, geo-locators and time/depth recorders, to puffins. These tags provided a detailed record of the bird’s locations and habits to help understand why the puffin population is in decline.

A lecturer for many modules within Newcastle’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Dr Richard Bevan includes a trip to the Farne Islands in his “Introduction to Marine Vertebrates” module, which provides students with a first hand encounter of a range of seabirds and seals, allowing them to make observations of marine vertebrates in their natural environment. If you’re interested in finding out more about the biology and zoology courses that Newcastle University offer, you can do so here.