Blue dotting across/ within the universe – A weekend of science and music

This weekend, I’m off to my first BlueDot festival with a bunch of fantastic colleagues from the Department of Geography at the University of Manchester. That’s Dr Emma Shuttleworth in the photograph humouring me by allowing me to take a test-ride inside one of our new carts that will transport our equipment onto the site. If you don’t know what BlueDot is, I’ll try to capture it in a sentence… It’s part of the summer festival line-up that the UK does so well, and one with a twist – it’s not just about the music, it’s a celebration of science and discovery. It’s an all-out geek fest/festival of superb exploration, set within the grounds of a deep space observatory (bonus sentence). Selling it?

To turn to the website for 2017, this year is about the uncertainty and fragility of our environment, here on planet Earth, that Pale ‘Blue Dot’, photographed from outer space by the Voyager 1 space probe on February 14th ,1990. The message from the festival this year is a powerful one, and I’ll share it with you here.

"In an era of political divisiveness and environmental uncertainty, 
bluedot aims to cultivate a unifying celebration for citizens of the world. 
Its 2017 message is loud and clear: look again at that dot.
That’s here. That’s home.
 That’s us. (Carl Sagan, 1934—1996).

To inspire and entertain.
To explore the frontiers of human advancement.
To celebrate science and the exploration of the universe.
To explore the intersections of science, culture, art and technology.
To highlight the fragility of planet Earth. "

At the heart of the festival is a commitment to the environment, and I’m delighted to see Teresa Anderson’s (Director at Jodrell Bank) post a blog this week outlining the festivals commitment to REDUCE THE PLASTIC IMPACT this year!  This means, no single use plastic straws or cutlery and banning plastic bottles on site. So pack your own water bottle in your rucksacks (or buy a beautiful re-usable BlueDot metal one at the festival) and pack some cutlery to use for the whole weekend! Why not a bamboo coffee cup too for your hot drinks! This will help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up chocking the environment, particularly the oceans, and entering the food chain.

The topic of plastics is a perfect segue to tell you more about what the merry band of Geographers are hoping to talk to you about at the festival. Our stall is ‘The Day After Tomorrow – Living in the Anthropocene’ and will feature an  activity where you can search for and identify (micro)plastics yourself with our microscope. 

Over the three days of the festival we’ve got lots of exciting activities that showcase our work on how humans impact and interact with the environment. Pick up your ‘Citizen of the Anthropocene’ sticker, step into our Anthropocene passport control to pick up your passport and collect stamps (we count 7 in our planning meeting today) as you start learning about how you are living in the Anthropocene.*

  • We’ll be going back in time to investigate the legacy of pollution from the Industrial Revolution in the NW.
  • We’ll be exploring how we still use the natural resources of the local area (look out for me dressed as a golfer and carrying lots of little pots of sand) and discussing how sand is a much rarer natural resource than you might think!
  • You can search for, and identify, tiny pieces of plastic (a clear ‘marker’ for the Anthropocene) using our microscopes.
  • You can look down microscopes at the tiny fossils we use to learn about past climates.
  • We’ll be calculating the carbon footprint of your journey to the festival and discussing how these can be reduced or offset.
  • Find out about University of Manchester Geographers are tackling peatland restoration along with Moors for the Future Partnership.
  • We’ve also teamed up with our friends at Play Fuel who have developed a street game ‘Downpour’ based around our research on flood mitigation. You can play to try to beat the clock to save Manchester from the next big flood!

You can read more in the official festival programme about what the Anthropocene* is, and please come and talk to the team during the weekend if you are at the festival. Pick up your sticker and collect a stamp from each of our activities over the weekend for your Anthropocene passport! We are looking forward to meeting you! I’ll post a sand-resources related blog next, if, like me, you are particularly interested in these tiny particles.


I’m riding down to the festival site on this trusty cargo-bike steed, and I currently feel a little on the wobbly side, so if you see me on route, please send me a supportive thought (don’t honk your car horn, as I might just overturn). It’s very long. Thank you to Triangulum and SEED social responsibility for partnering up so that I can hire this free of charge! If you want to try one out too, have a look here.




*The Anthropocene is the idea that human activities have influenced the environment to such an extent that traces of these activities will remain visible in the sediment and rock record for millions of years to come. To justify the definition of a brand new ‘epoch’ (to use the geological terminology), these impacts must be sufficiently distinctive to what has come before.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s