Birkbeck opens new Earth and Planetary Sciences teaching lab

Birkbeck’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences has officially opened a new petrology teaching laboratory.

The new petrology lab

Birkbeck’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences has officially opened a new petrology teaching laboratory.

The lab is equipped with a one-of-a-kind mix of scientific and teaching apparatus for the teaching of up to 67 students. In a first for a UK teaching institution, the lab also has a mineralogical microprobe, which will enable teaching staff to carry out elemental analyses of geological samples in near-real time.

Each of the student stations is also equipped with its own microscope and touchscreen computer to complement the main teaching equipment, which for the first time in the UK will also include an electron microscope housed next to the lab – moved from its previous location on the campus of Birkbeck’s neighbour, UCL.

“The setup of the new lab will enable our lecturers to analyse geological samples and demonstrate their different mineralogical characteristics to students while they examine their own samples under a microscope,” said Professor Gerald Roberts, Head of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck.

The new lab was completed in autumn 2015 thanks to £1.3m in funding, half of which was provided through a grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, with the rest matched by the college.

The teaching with the new facilities will also be complemented for distance learners by Panopto, the college’s lecture capture technology, which the department has adapted to provide higher resolution video. This will enable students on the department’s popular distance learning courses to benefit from the new technology through video and audio.

“The videos are archived for internet streaming at a later date for distance learners or revision, and we are developing the capacity to stream lectures live. This all helps with recruitments and retention, and enhances the student experience,” says Professor Roberts.

Birkbeck is the only provider of a distance-learning BSc Geology in the world which is also accredited by the British Geological Society. The college is also one of the oldest providers of a Geology education in London, having offered this education continuously since 1840.

“Ensuring we can integrate face-to-face teaching with an equivalent provision for distance learners was a vital part of the project from the beginning,” added Professor Roberts. “Many of our students already work in a field related to geology – for example, mining or oil and gas – and travel regularly or are based in the field for long periods of time, which makes a distance learning option essential.”

“Bringing together students regularly for fieldtrips really cements bonds between each year-group and many friendships have been forged on our annual first-year fieldtrip to the Isle of Skye,” he continued. “We regularly have students flying in from all over the world to take part, including as far afield as Australia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Azerbaijan and Canada.”

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