Professor Colin Pillinger beams into Bristol for Royal Society lecture
Press release issued: 15 March 2012
The man behind the British-led Beagle 2 mission to Mars is making a star appearance in his hometown of Bristol for a lecture looking at what can be learnt from Martian meteorites. Professor Colin Pillinger, one of Britain’s foremost scientists, has spent four decades analysing and writing about extraterrestrial objects – a famed career which has found tantalising evidence of life on Mars.
He will use meteorites to capture the attention of his audience at a public lecture on Thursday [22 March] entitled "Stones from the sky: a heaven-sent opportunity to talk about science", which has been organised by the University of Bristol in association with the Royal Society and will take place in the Wills Memorial Building.
It is the acclaimed Royal Society lecture that Professor Pillinger delivered as part of winning the Faraday Prize for excellence in communicating science. Previous winners have included Sir David Attenborough and Professor Robert Winston.
Professor Pillinger will begin with the story of the earliest-recorded British meteorite, the Wold Cottage stone, which fell in Yorkshire in 1795, before explaining how unassuming lumps of rock allow scientists to study the places beyond Earth that they cannot physically reach.
Meteorites are useful to scientists because they reveal a lot about the planet from which they came and, if they come from the asteroid belt, can even provide insights into the early solar system.
Studying Martian meteorites in recent decades led Professor Pillinger to discover that there had once been water on the planet. Other deposits in the same meteorites showed deposits of carbonate minerals and what appeared to be organic matter.
He has made more than a thousand contributions to scientific literature, and also found time to be one of Britain's foremost science communicators, contributing dozens of popular articles in newspapers and magazines as well as giving hundreds of public lectures.
Professor Pillinger has close links with Bristol having been born in Kingswood in 1943 and educated locally until embarking on a Chemistry degree at University College Swansea, where he went on to achieve a PhD in Mass Spectrometry. He subsequently returned to the city to work as a Research Associate at the University of Bristol from 1968 to 1976.
He is best-known as being the principal investigator for the Beagle 2 Mars lander project, part of European Space Agency's 2003 Mars Express mission. He conceived the Beagle 2 mission after analysing a number of meteorites from Mars and finding exciting evidence of the existence of life there.
Beagle 2 reached Mars in December 2003 but it failed to make contact with Earth after it was released from the orbiting probe and entered the red planet's atmosphere.
"Stones from the sky: a heaven-sent opportunity to talk about science", the Royal Society Michael Faraday Prize Lecture by Professor Colin Pillinger, takes place on Thursday, 22 March at 6pm in The Great Hall, Wills Memorial Building, Queen's Road.
- The lecture is free but booking is required: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/pace/public-lectures/pillinger.html