Professor Jemma Wadham talks about storytelling in Peru

Scenic view of Arequipa, Peru

In May, NERC announced its plans for Trans.MISSION II, a new global project with Hay Festival pairing leading environmental researchers with award-winning storytellers to communicate cutting-edge science to new audiences.

At a time of unprecedented public interest in how human actions affect the environment, Trans.MISSION II will pair NERC researchers from Peru, Colombia and the UK with artists and storytellers in each country to create new stories about the ongoing research projects.

A UK-based artist, illustrator or animator will then create an overarching piece that will combine and communicate the common themes. These pieces will inform, engage and inspire the public and future researchers in environmental science and the processes of research.

Trans.MISSION II is the first international public engagement collaboration project for NERC, with each new piece to be launched at Hay Festival events in Arequipa, Peru (7-10 November 2019); Cartagena, Colombia (30 January-2 February 2020) and in Hay-on-Wye, Wales (21-31 May 2020).

Peru’s piece will focus on tropical glaciers and will feature writer, theatre producer and actress Erika Stockholm.

Professor Jemma Wadham, from the University of Bristol, is an expert in glacial retreat and is taking part in the project.

“We are valuing communicating science much more than we did 20 years ago and that’s a good thing, but there is still a long way to go and it’s not easy as an academic to know where to start and how to find the time. Opportunities like the Hay Festival-NERC collaboration I think raise the value and give academics a mechanism and structure to engage with science communication, with a clear end product,” she says.

“I think what I would like to achieve is firstly, to become better at communicating my research in more accessible way and secondly, to raise awareness of the impacts of melting glaciers on vulnerable communities and ecosystems around the world (starting with Peru).”

Wadham says she was drawn to the project as she is “always interested in new ways to get a message across about our changing environment, and especially glaciers.”

Interestingly, the project is an amalgamation of Wadham’s upbringing and personal interests.

“When I left school I nearly became a musician rather than a scientist. My mother was a professional actress and my father was a biochemist. In many ways for me this collaboration with Erika brings together those two aspects of my own heritage.”

NERC has supported a number of environmental science projects across South America, including an investment of £272,000 on pioneering research in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest that proved that birds, mammals and amphibians needed a minimum 30% forest cover in order to thrive – this threshold has since been enshrined in Brazilian law.

NERC scientists have helped Bolivia secure $27 million worth of foreign investment to preserve its tropical forests and benefit the local communities.

The Peruvian Glacial Retreat research programme is led by NERC and the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Tecnológica, Perú (CONCYTEC) and funded by the Newton-Paulet Fund.

Trans.MISSION II follows 2018’s UK-only pilot, which saw three films released: Message from Antarctica by polar researcher Emily Shuckburgh and illustrator Chris Haughton, Clean Air Starts at Home by Aardman Animation Studios director Dan Binns and atmospheric chemist Professor Ally Lewis (voiced by Marcus Brigstocke), and the Weather Watching series by poet Nicola Davies and climate scientist Ed Hawkins. The three films can be seen on the Hay Festival website.


Erika Stockholm and Jemma Wadham

Erika Stockholm with
Professor Jemma Wadham (right)

Professor Jemma Wadham conducted her first degree (B.A., M.A.) in Physical Geography at the University of Cambridge, UK. She subsequently persued a PhD at the University of Bristol, undertaking at short post-doctoral research post at the University of Leeds in isotope geochemistry, before returning to Bristol to take up a tenured post at the Bristol Glaciology Centre. Previously Head of the Graduate School, Impact Director and Research Director in the School of Geographical Sciences, Jemma is based at the Cabot Institute for the Environment.

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