What do you think is the biggest question on Earth?

UnEarthed. Explore the world at your feet

20 October 2017 by Hermione Cockburn

This 17-19 November at 'UnEarthed. Explore the world at your feet', about 100 NERC-funded scientists are engaging the public with the biggest questions on Earth.

We probably all have different ideas about what these big questions are. From my office at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, the view takes in the extinct volcano of Arthur's Seat and often more mundane sights like traffic congestion in the Old Town and unseasonably wet weather.

Each of these sights flags up a different list of questions for me on a daily basis: Can we make natural disasters less disastrous? Can we make the air we breathe better for us? How can we tackle climate change and generate enough energy for the future? Some days, to be honest, it's just: What shall I have for tea?

What are your big questions?

I'd be willing to bet that every single question has something to do with the environment. All of mine do - even what to have for tea. Why? Because our lives are so connected to, and all our needs depend on, our planet.

Hermione Cockburn

Hermione Cockburn, Scientific Director, Dynamic Earth

For the majority of us who live in urban areas the connection between the environment and where we live can be easy to overlook, but in every city we are reliant on the environment for the energy to power our homes, the food and water we consume and even the air we breathe. So I challenge you to get your big questions ready, to come to UnEarthed - external link - and ask them. You may well think of questions that the scientists won't be able to answer and that's exactly what science is about - shaping those big questions and working together to find out the answers.

But don't just come along to ask questions - help answer them too! There has been an amazing response to our citizen science project, Operation Weather Rescue, but there is still more work to be done. So far, thousands of people have helped digitise weather data collected by a group of Victorian scientists who spent 20 years at the top and bottom of Ben Nevis, battered by the elements collecting a precious archive that can help shed light on current weather patterns. Have a look at the project at the Weather Rescue - external link - website and join in.

Coming up on Planet Earth are stories covering a wonderful range of topics, including energy, seals, puffins, chocolate, lizards, air, farming, the North Pole and smartphones. And that's also why I'm so pleased that Dynamic Earth is hosting UnEarthed because there is bound to be something there that will interest anyone who visits, regardless of their age or background.

I'm hoping that people from all over Scotland will come and see for themselves the broad scope of the science funded by NERC and, importantly, why it's relevant to them. I also hope that many young people will leave having been inspired to become a scientist. Why do I want that? Because I know there would be an exciting career ahead of them and that many would make great scientists.

And to answer the biggest questions on Earth, we need the best people in the world.


Dynamic Earth is the UK's only science centre dedicated to Earth and environmental science. Before joining Dynamic Earth, Hermione presented science for BBC radio and television. Her PhD was funded by NERC and examined how landscapes evolve in Africa and Antarctica.