International Women’s Day – Melba W. ‘Jerry’ Murray

It’s International Women’s Day and I don’t normally write this kind of things but couldn’t resist introducing you to someone I’ve been interested in of late…

I was recently reminded of a useful book that I was given as an undergrad to help writing my final year dissertation. We laughed for quite a while when this book was handed to us by our tutor; a dusty old cover with a black and white photo of a lady on the front entitled “Engineered Report Writing”. What good is this to us? Surely there’s something more modern we can read?

The book was written by Melba ‘Jerry’ Murray in 1969 and although difficult to find out much about her, she was an ‘industrial editor’ working with engineers from a major oil company. The book was developed to give guidance to engineers to help them communicate their work in a systematic and professional manner. She identified many of the engineers found written communication a challenge and that there needed to be a standard for report writing. Needless to say, the book was invaluable to us whilst writing our dissertations and we were wrong.

The book is as relevant today as it was then and her guidance for report writing helped sculpt our dissertations. I thought I’d share some of the tips she includes:

1. Get to the point. Tell your readers what you want from them in plain business language.

2. Answer, in sequence, any questions that your readers would ask in response to your main point.

3. Develop a reader-orientated topic outline.

4. Develop a main-point outline. In the outline, every heading you wrote for your reader orientated outline is followed by a sentence containing the main point for that section of the document.

5. Assemble illustrations that will support and explain your text. Send a set of illustrations, attached to a copy of your main-point outline, to everyone who will have to approve your document.

6. Arrange a pre-writing meeting to get approval for the content.

7. Compose the complete text.

8. Edit and polish the completed draft.


I don’t know too much about Melba Murray but she truly was a pioneer in Geoscience Communication and I’d love to know more. If anyone can add anything I’d be interested to hear about it.

Otherwise if you’d like to read more, some of her books are still available on Amazon!

Happy International Women’s Day!

– L


E-gaming workshop – GeolSoc Hen Conference 2015

Last week the annual Geological Society: Higher Education Network (HEN) conference 2015 was held here in Plymouth. The event is designed to share ideas and techniques which can be used to enhance geoscience education (more details can be found here). The first day comprised a range of talks relating to how we can enhance geoscience education through research practices (Brett Gilley was a particular highlight!). But of particular interest for me, the second day comprised a workshop on the use of e-gaming in geoscience education.

Throughout day two we got to test some of the games that have been developed for geoscience education and I thought it would be good to put together a brief summary of my favourite games, what their about and where you can find them.

1. CSI North Wales  – Keele University (Jamie Pringle)

An unusual concept for a geoscience game and based on true events – your task is to find a body buried within a field using aerial photography, geophysical methods and forensic techniques. The initial phase of the game gets the player to conduct a desk study, looking at aerial photography, historical maps, geological information and even thermal camera imagery (apparently a body can still be several degrees warmer than the surrounding soil even up to a year after burial) to get acquainted with the site and identify areas of interest.


The first phase of the game has the player conducted a desk study of the site.

After the player has completed a basic desk study, they are asked to select specialist surveys to be carried out across the site. The specialists place flags around the field where they have identified areas as of interest. The next step has the player conducting a site survey and inspect these highlighted areas as well as adding their own areas of interest.  During the second site survey the player can choose a range of geophysical equipment to conduct their own surveys. Once all the surveys are completed the player must then decide where they think the body has been buried based on their findings!


Choose your geophysical survey kit and get hunting!

The game was built in Unity 3D and is currently playable on a web player (link above). It’s thoroughly enjoyable and is a good demonstration of how geological techniques can be applied for this style of investigation. I highly recommend having a go at this, you won’t be disappointed!

2. Geo Training Environment – Field Mapping and Skills – Leeds University  (Jacqui Houghton, Annabeth Robinson et al.)

This game pretty much does what it says on the tin. The game is aimed at improving undergraduate mapping skills and supplement their fieldwork in a classroom environment. The aim of the game is simple, wonder around the field area looking for outcrops, add them to your geological map along with any other associated field data to create a geological map for the area. More information about the project can be found here.


The landscape for field mapping the geo training game.

This game was also built in Unity 3D and the landscape and level of detail is stunning. Outcrops are scattered all over the field area, the player can discover more information about them by clicking on them and revealing a field notebook. The information provided by the notebook is then plotted on a field map by the students in the classroom. Further information about locations and elevations are obtained through a virtual GPS device and a virtual compass.


A field notebook appears when the player reaches an outcrop. It contains field sketches, fossils and outcrop data which can all be plotted on the students field map.

One thing that definitely deserves a mention is the superb sound effects throughout the game – overhead RAF included. A high attention to detail has been put into this game to make it an as authentic field work experience as possible, well perhaps the weather is a little too nice!

The team at Leeds explained how important it is that this does not replace fieldwork but can be used to enhance key skills learnt through fieldwork. The game is fun to play and an enjoyable approach to improving key skills and has scope to extend into different skill areas in the future. Highly recommend having a go but don’t forget to print off your field maps first!

3. Virtual Geology Fieldtrips – Skiddaw – The Open University (Shailey Minocha, Tom Argles et al).

Another approach to virtual fieldwork aimed at undergraduate level comes from the Open University with their virtual Skiddaw field trip. The aim of this game is to visit various outcrop localities within the virtual Skiddaw map and investigate the geology. The following video gives you a walk through of the game and explains how many of the elements were put into the game (scanning actual rocks!).

There are some fantastic features included within this virtual fieldwork, one of my personal favourites is the virtual microscope. For every outcrop the student investigates, thin sections can not only be viewed but also manipulated.  You can find out more about he virtual microscope and have a go here. Some other fun features include flying across the field site, teleporting and interacting with the other players throughout. I really enjoyed this game and I can see the benefits it may have in enhancing fieldwork skills. I’m unaware of a freely available version of this game but I believe Universities can talk with the Open University team and make arrangements for access.


That’s just a short summary of some of the game we got to test out, if you want to know more about any of the games you can either contact me or any of the developers. In the meantime, the game I am developing for volcanic hazard communication is nearing completion. The first prototype of the game was shown at the E-gaming workshop with some great feedback from those that played. I am looking forward to sharing more about the game with you soon so, stay tuned (here’s a sneaky peek)!


Stealth Learning: Minecraft

A few weeks back I helped out with an outreach session in a local primary school. We took lots of different rocks and mineral hand samples and microscopes along to help teach the children to learn the basics. I love these outreach sessions because you can see the children’s amazement when they learn the secrets about such an everyday object and their enjoyment is clear to see. During this session a very excited boy, Jack (not real name) from the year 3 class came to tell “I’ve seen some of these rocks and minerals before on Minecraft!” and with that began to reel off the names of several different types of rocks. For me this was exciting because this is the perfect example of ‘stealth learning’.


Undertaking rocks and minerals outreach at a local primary school.

So what is ‘stealth learning’? 

I describe the example above as the perfect example of this concept, and that is because the game that Jack played, Minecraft, is designed with the aim of fun and entertainment and with no educational or secondary aspects. The fact that Jack learnt something from playing the game, in this case the names of rocks, is an unexpected learning opportunity and this is what we call stealth learning.

So why is this an advantage? Because the players don’t realise they are learning as an outcome of playing for fun or entertainment. For some educators this is desirable as the children and more likely to be motivated to engage with their learning experience.


For those of you not acquainted with Minecraft (where have you been?!), here’s a brief summary. Minecraft is a highly pixelated strategy game that can be played in multiplayer and comprises two main game modes: Creative and Survival. Creative is all about construction and building with unlimited resources and is only constrained by a player’s imagination and ambitions – you can literally build anything! Survival is what it says on the tin: surviving! It’s about building for necessity, like shelters to protect you from the nasties that roam the level – including zombies! It’s played by over 30 million people worldwide and having played myself, I can tell you it’s highly addictive.

A new version of Minecraft has also been produced, MinecraftEdu, but as this has been designed as a specific educational tool it doesn’t quite fit in the realms of stealth learning. Nonetheless a fantastic tool to use to motivate learners.

But does using stealth learning in video games really work?

We’ve all played video games in one capacity or another and I think most of us can recognise that we’ve experienced a stealth learning opportunity – I know I certainly have. However, this doesn’t necessarily prove that these unexpected learning opportunities are remembered or even understood. Jack could tell me the names of rocks but does that mean he can identify the real things? The answer is probably no.

To be effective the learning opportunity must be supported, as in any normal educational practice. This can be done by firstly by introducing the fundamental concepts required to play the game. Make it explicit, tell them what they will be learning. Then let the players realise the learning opportunity through gameplay, applying the concepts they have already been shown (the more times they play the better). Finally, reflect upon the learning experience. What did they learn? How can this be applied?

There are some great things out there to read about how games and in particular Minecraft are being used in education. One of my favourites is that of @MrJasonWilmot who blogs and tweets from his classroom. Check out his blog here and read what his class think about Minecraft and learning – the perfect example of supported stealth learning in action!

— L

Creative Communication

“I’m using video games technology to improve education & communication of volcanic hazards in the Caribbean.” That was my #1tweetresearch last week and is quite often my answer when people ask me about my research. The reactions I get are generally very mixed. Some people think it’s a great idea and can see it’s potential use whilst others are more skeptical and not quite sure how I can call it ‘Science’. Whatever your reaction may be to this type of research, the problem of creating a fun and memorable method to communicate the hazards associated with natural disasters has been ongoing and tackled in a number of different medias. During my first year of research I’ve encountered several of these, primarily aimed at younger generations and some more conventional than others. So here are some of my favourite methods of creative hazard communication!


Comic Strips

A more common method than probably you would first imagine, they are a light hearted way to communicate about natural hazards. The following examples are the ‘Silly Timmy’ comic strip created by Justin Sharpe (who also has this great website for natural hazards). There are around 40 strips focusing on a variety of natural hazards from tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and flooding. You can check them out here, but just for a flavour here are two of my favourites!

There is also another comic created by the Thai Red Cross called ‘Mr Radar‘ which was developed to educate children about flooding hazards.  It’s quite long but covers all the essential points about preparing and coping with flooding hazards!


Cartoons & Animations

There are lots of cartoons and animations around for all different types of natural hazards. One of my favourites I’ve come across more recently is ‘The Pacific Adventures of Climate Crab’ created through a collaboration between the Red Cross and the Australian Government’s Pacific-Australia Climate Change and Adaptation Planning Program (PACCSAP). It’s designed to educate about the El Nino and La Nina phenomena and it covers aspects of what they mean but also how to prepare.

Another great video (also with crabs) was created by San Diego County Office of Emergency Services to educate children about tsunamis. Not only does this video have all the information you need to know about what to do it also has a tsunami song (it’s quite catchy…).



Finally (and definitely my favourite), you may have heard about the use of puppets to educate about volcanic hazards around Merapi in Indonesia but here is another example of their use. The creators of Sesame Street & The Muppets have developed several videos relating to natural hazards including flooding, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis.  They’re fantastically visual and simple to follow and are used around the world. They were developed by a charity called ‘No Strings’ who train people to become puppeteers for this very purpose.  They have also made videos using puppets about the dangers of land mines, the conflict in Syria and other political issues. Here is the trailer for the  ‘Tales of Disaster’ films:

And if you have more time, here is their volcano edition:


Needless to say these are just a few example of how information about natural hazards is being communicated but I think you’ll agree they’re all creative, engaging and memorable!

5 Geoscience Games

The use of video games technology in education and training is now becoming more common place. Serious games are currently widely used to train Doctors, simulate military scenarios and for corporate training. Unsurprisingly the use of serious games to educate about natural hazards is also not a new concept. So what games are currently freely available? Here are some of the games I’ve come across for you to check out:

1. Volcano Island 

This game was developed as part of the Earthscope Panorama project by the Havard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. It is currently used within volcanic hazard outreach programmes in the Caribbean region and see’s the player making decisions as the Mayor of ‘Volcano Island’. The game includes videos and lots of information about volcanic hazards and how we monitor activity to prepare you for a press conference! Build up your popularity points and get ready to evacuate the islands residents as Mount Leakytop threatens to erupt.

volcano island

Screenshot from the main dashboard of Volcano Island.

 2. Stop Disasters Game

The Stop Disasters Game was created by Playerthree for the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). As the name suggests the objective of the game is to reduce the impact of natural disasters. The game covers a range of natural disasters including hurricanes, wildfire, flooding, earthquakes and tsunamis. It allows the player to upgrade and install defences for each of the hazards in order to reduce the loss of life and damage to buildings. This can include building breakwaters, installing seismometers, building levees or retro fitting buildings. It provides information about each of the methods used and is supported by information factsheets from the website.


Screenshot from the Stop Disasters Game. Unlock as many of the ‘Key Facts’ throughout gameplay as you can.

3. From Dust 

A popular game developed by Eric Chahi if you have a Google Account you can try this game for free. This is a strategy and role play game (opposed to a serious game) in which the player controls nature and the elements to aid the survival of your people from the effects of natural disasters which include tsunamis, earthquakes and a volcanic eruption. Although the game’s primary aim is not education it’s a fun way to understand what these phenomena may look like.

For those without a Google Account here’s a dramatic  video trailer of the game:


4. Sai Fah – The Flood Fighter

This game is free to download on Android and Apple and was made by OpenDream for UNESCO Bangkok in response to the devastating 2011 flooding in Thailand. It aims to teach children about how to recognise if flooding is likely and what to do during a flood event. The game is brimming with useful information which is presented in a fun way and with other little challenges to complete. This is the perfect example of a serious game but Warning –  this is also highly addictive!


Screenshot of Sai Fah: The Flood Fighter which aims to educate about flood events.

The above games are all games related to natural hazards. The last game I’d like to mention is of a different nature and is an advertising game (advergame) but still related to Geology:

5. Quest for Oil 

This game was developed by Serious Games Interactive for the Maersk Group. The aim of the game is to educate the player about the processes behind drilling for oil and in turn advertise the company. This is a high level game and integrates geological skills such as interpreting geological cross-sections and seismic lines. The ultimate goal of the game is to interpret the information and locate oil. This game is a little complicated and perhaps aimed at more of an undergrad level but really makes you think about the processes involved in oil prospecting. The website also provides numerous sources of supporting materials. Definitely worth a play!


Screenshot of ‘Quest for Oil’ by Maersk.

Happy gaming!

– L

The Island

Last week saw the first big steps in the development phase of the project; we got the island DEM into the gaming software ready to begin building the game. The DEM is of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent which is the focus of this study. I thought it would be a good idea to explain a bit more about my project and answer some of the key questions.

What is the project?

This research aims to use video games technology and the concept of serious games (games that have a purpose beyond entertainment) to create a new volcanic hazard communication tool. The game will incorporate traditional methods of hazard communication (e.g. hazard maps) and will be an interactive, informative and fun tool which can be used to educate highly vulnerable communities about volcanic risk.


A view of Soufriere, St. Vincent using the DEM in Unity 3D

What is the purpose?

The purpose of this project is to increase awareness of volcanic hazards in communities where volcanic risk may not be a priority in day-to-day life. It aims to increase resilience through education of the associated hazards and encourage the adoption of preparation measures. The ultimate goal is for the game to be rolled out into outreach programmes across St. Vincent and the wider Caribbean region. The importance of volcanic hazards education was reinforced with the death of over 30 people in Indonesia from volcanic eruptions at Mt. Sinabung & Mt. Kelud which had remained dormant for hundreds of years. We hope that the game will not only raise awareness of volcanic risk but also provide a long lasting message on what to expect and how to prepare in case of a volcanic eruption.

Where is the study location?

The east Caribbean island of St. Vincent has been chosen for this study. The island is home to the Soufriere volcano which has a violent eruptive history which in 1902 saw a devastating eruption which led to the loss of over 1500 lives. The most recent eruption was in 1979 in which an 18 km plume rose above the volcano leading to the evacuation of over 20,000 people to emergency shelters. You can read a fantastic description of the islands eruptive history from the VolcanoDegassing blog. Since 1979 the volcano has entered a state of quiescence and a generation has now passed with no first-hand experience of an eruption.  The island, like most Caribbean islands, is also prone to a range of more frequently occurring natural disasters such as the trough system which hit the island over Christmas 2013, causing the deaths of 12 people. This can lead to a prioritisation of natural hazards in which volcanic hazards are not the most significant in day-to-day life. Therefore, St. Vincent gives us the opportunity to overcome some of these issues and use new techniques to provide a lasting message of volcanic risk.


Soufriere taken in January 2014

How will the game be developed?

For the development of the game we are using Unity 3D which you can download for free. There is lots of coding involved and artistic talent but the software is ideal for this project and can simulate the physics behind phenomena very effectively.

Who’s involved in the project?

The research will primarily be completed by myself as my PhD project. My project supervisors are Paul Cole (Director of Studies), Iain Stewart, Mike Phillips & Stephanie Lavau (all of Plymouth University). As my background is Geology not game development, I have someone to help build and code the game, Luke Christison of Plymouth University. We will also be working closely with the outreach team at the Seismic Research Centre (SRC) from the University of the West Indies and the Streva Project.

Hope this gives you a little insight into my research. In the meantime please feel free to contact me and I hope to share more of the development phase over the next 6 months.

Look forward to sharing more soon!




Hello & Welcome to my new blog!

I thought, as a geo-communications PhD student, thought it was about time I started communicating my science (now that I have some…), so here is my new blog just for that very purpose.

So to properly introduce myself, my name is Lara and I’m a first year PhD student at Plymouth University, UK. I did my BSc at Portsmouth in Geo-Haz and then went onto do the Master (M1R) Magmas et Volcan in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I relocated back to the UK last September to start my PhD entitled “3D Visualisation of Volcanic Hazards”.

In brief, my project aims to build a new hazard communication tool through the use of video games technology and the concept of serious games. Serious games are games used to educate and train and are becoming more and more prevalent; you would be surprised at all the ways games are being used. We aim to build 3D visualisations of volcanic phenomena for the Caribbean island of St. Vincent as an interactive and fun method of education which has a strong gaming element.

I hope to blog about my research and the progress that we make along the way. It’s an exciting time as we are ready to begin development in the coming weeks. I will also be blogging about other things I find of interest and things I think you might enjoy. Happy reading!



Here’s me last summer with the stunning Puy de Dôme in the background!