NUSTEM: The year in Numbers

Kate Winter on Bloomberg

Remember when former NUSTEM staffer Dr. Kate Winter went to Antarctica to continue her research on carbon dioxide uptake in the Southern Ocean? We followed her trip here on the NUSTEM website.

Kate took some footage for news service Bloomberg, which is now out. Here she is:

2019 WISE Awards: Finalist!

NUSTEM are delighted to be recognised by the WISE Campaign as a Finalist for their 2019 Awards. We’re shortlisted in the Outreach and Engagement category, up against some outstanding individuals and another excellent university programme – the sort of company we’re more than happy to keep!

WISE say:

The awards recognise inspiring individuals and organisations who are actively working to […] achieve gender balance in STEM in the UK. With the target of 1 million women in STEM by 2020, it is critical that we highlight the hard work and successes of those who are achieving in their sector and show commitment to equality within STEM.

The Awards event will be held on 7th November. The very best of luck to our fellow nominees!

You can read more about the WISE Campaign and find out who the other Awards finalists are.

Tales of Engineering – call for volunteers

Some of our primary books

NUSTEM has been awarded a prestigious Ingenious Public Engagement Award by the Royal Academy of Engineering to support our Tales of Engineering project. The project will connect professional engineers with pre-school children and their families to share their love of Engineering.

In relaxed and friendly activity sessions, engineers and families will read an engineering-related storybook together, then take part in a simple hands-on engineering activity.

As the project gets underway, we are looking for individuals with an engineering background who are keen to develop their public engagement skills, promote their field of work, and contribute to the diversity of the engineering sector.

Volunteer engineers will contribute approximately 10 hours of their time over a period of 10 months. NUSTEM will offer support at every step, providing public engagement training, helping in the choice of a suitable book, co-creating an interactive activity, and supporting the delivery of the reading sessions in local schools and cultural spaces.

If you think you can support this project, please get in touch: email You’re also very welcome to attend our kick-start event: A kick-start event will take place later this month and details can be found in our events calendar.

Educate North Awards 2019

Nuffield Research Placements

Bullwhips, breaking the sound barrier, and science in progress

New year resolution: blog more.

We’ve been big fans of Destin Sandlin ever since his original chicken video (seriously: take a look), and into his Smarter Every Day YouTube channel. His latest film is outstanding.

If you were in central Newcastle just before Christmas you might have seen an Australian street performer doing whip stunts. You’ll certainly have heard him, as the tip of his whip exceeded the speed of sound and produced that characteristic crack sound, which echoed down the street.

If you’ve read or thought about that at all you’ve probably worked out that the tapered shape of the whip means that as the wave of movement reaches the tip, the tip is accelerated violently, reaching the speed of sound and beyond. ‘Why whips crack’ is one of those things that’s felt ‘known’ for quite some time.

Yeah, turns out there’s a bunch of detail missing from those sorts of explanations. And all you need to start to uncover it is a curious YouTuber, a high-speed camera, a world record-holding whip performer (who also happens to be a mechanical engineer and fluid dynamicist), and a bunch of academics willing to come together to do some experiments in a motion capture studio.

This film is great. It captures not just new detail about how a whip exceeds the speed of sound, but also offers a glimpse into how science is done.

Kate in Antarctica: Life on Base

Kate’s been stuck inside with bad weather – windy, with visibility down to less than a metre. Not good for science or filming… but great for writing blog posts! Here’s her latest, and for the full set (and some background) be sure to check out our page all about Kate in Antarctica.

Station life is comfortable and well-structured. Everyone sleeps in bunk beds in containers at the back of the station, or rooms which are tucked away in the main structure of the base. Rooms are wood-lined and warm, with windows for light and electricity to charge cameras and radios. The only noise comes from the wind, and sometimes from the sound it makes whipping through the station’s nine wind turbines. Once you emerge from a peaceful slumber you can shuffle your way to the kitchen in slippers if you have a station room, or don your woolly hat, cosy boots and sunglasses for the short commute. It’s always so bright outside – if you leave your sunglasses off for even a few minutes, your eyes start to hurt.

Breakfast is 7-8am Monday-Saturday. After self-serve toast, cereal, yoghurt, coffee and tea, everyone scatters to their place of work: the station office, kitchen, doctor’s surgery, garage, snow-melting room, the science container (where I charge and test all my equipment), the station lab, the airstrip, or the new hanger. Staff and researchers who work outside tend to fill a flask of tea and pop a bar of chocolate in their pocket before they pile on more layers of clothes that will keep them warm until lunchtime. The station is well insulated, maintaining a very comfortable temperature so those working inside tend to be happiest in jeans, a t-shirt and trainers.As James and I travel a little further to our place of work – the mountains – we prepare a packed lunch of soup and a sandwich, with a biscuit or bar of chocolate. We shove this in the top of our metal Zarges kit box (ed — we didn’t know what these were, but they turn out to be really cool metal boxes) which already contains a host of safety and science equipment. Then comes one of me favourite daily tasks: sled organisation and security! Making sure each piece of equipment is in the best place on the sled is like a game of Tetris. Big boxes go first to shelter smaller and more delicate equipment from the snow that’s kicked up by the 30 kph snowmobile. Once everything is in place the rope work can commence. We tie everything down to make sure it doesn’t jump around or fall off the sled on the bumpy journey to the mountains. We travel across wind-blown grooves and ridges in the snow called ’sastrugi’, and the sled must ride up or shovel through peaks and troughs of snow and ice as it’s dragged behind our snowmobiles.

Scott Webster, a field guide at the British Antarctic Survey taught me a few sled-securing techniques when I was researching the Ellsworth mountains in 2014, so I follow his guidance – looping ropes around straps, crossing the rope across the sled from one side to the other and back, before pulling the rope as taut as I can, then tying the whole thing off with a couple of tried and tested knots. The result is a beauty to behold, I assure you!

After a day’s work James and I return from the ‘field’ (geologist always describe their research site as ‘the field’ even if they’re not actually in a field!), usually by about 6pm. Then the sled unroping and unpacking begins! We have to slowly warm up electrical equipment, placing the Zarges boxes in the colder station entrance for an hour before we unpack them and place everything on charge. At this stage we start to back up the day’s data on laptops and hard drives. Whilst the station staff put away their tools, turn off their computers and take off extra layers of clothing, we try to take a quick look at the day’s data before dinner is served at 8pm.

Our chef Christine serves dinner onto plates piled high to feed the hungry workers. By 9pm everyone is full… and tired. We take it in turn to help clean the dishes and the kitchen, with those ‘off duty’ having some time to relax. This tends to involve chatting around the dining table, reading on the sofas, listening to music or replying to an email or two on one of the station’s two internet-connected laptops.

The 10-hour working day is labour-intensive and almost non-stop, so most people fall into bed exhausted between 10 and 11pm.

Kate in Antarctica!

Kate’s made it to the Princess Elisabeth Research Station, which (if you ask us) looks more like the villain’s lair in the next Bond film than anything so straightforward as a research base. Wait… are we sure Kate isn’t plotting world domination?

Here’s Kate’s update:

Merry Christmas from the Princess Elisabeth Research Station in East Antarctica!           

Did you have a white Christmas in the UK? At 71 degrees south, you always get a bright, white Christmas. The sun circles the sky during the Antarctic summer so it is always bright and sunny – which is strange when you wake up on Christmas morning! Today, we have really good weather, it is -8°C and the wind is blowing at 10 knots so it is not too cold. You can see the kind of weather that I am experiencing at this weather report site. 

As the weather is so good, and our time here is short, everyone on the base went to work today. The research station is expanding, so there are lots of people building new walls, putting in new electrics, maintaining the plumbing system and checking that the wind turbines (which produce most of the station’s electricity) are working. There are four scientists on the base at the moment – me, my field assistant James Linighan and two geologists from Turkey. One geologist wants to date the rocks on the mountains (using a technique called cosmogenic nuclide dating – you can google it if you want to know more!) to see if the East Antarctic Ice Sheet was thicker in the past, and the other geologist is searching for meterorites. Antarctica is a great place to find meteorites because their dark, shiny form stands out on the blue ice and white snow. There are more scientists working close to the coast, where they will camp on the ice for over a month. They are drilling through the ice, to collect ice cores to learn about the past climate.

James and I have been scanning the mountains that stick up above the ice (called nunataks) with a drone. When we come back next year, we will do the same tests, to see if the rocks on the mountain have moved over the space of a year. We expect the rocks to move downhill a little. Over many years, these rocks will roll and fall onto the ice, where glaciers (like big, frozen rivers) will transport them to the sea. We have already collected some rock samples from nearby mountains and from the ice sheet, so that we can see what’s inside the rocks (like minerals) when we get back to the laboratory at Northumbria University. That will tell us if these rocks can help to feed plankton in the Southern Ocean.