Peter.D.Riley

International bestselling award-winning author Facebook Twitter

Taking science education across the world

Our future depends on exploring all the frontiers of science, on innovative technologies based on these explorations and on the development of scientific literacy in all peoples through science education.

The Jurassic Garden in Whitby

In Whitby there is a museum with a huge collection of fossils.

You can see the many specimens from the collection at http://www.whitbymuseum.org.uk/type/ftlist.htm

The museum is situated in Pannett Park and in one section of the park is the Jurassic Garden which links to the specimens inside the museum.

The Jurassic garden is situated in Pannett Park

The Jurassic garden is situated in Pannett Park

There is a path through plants which are similar to those that were growing in the times of the dinosaurs

Plants the dinosaurs would have seen

Plants the dinosaurs would have seen

Here is a monkey puzzle tree. Trees like this one were growing 200 million years ago and would have been seen by dinosaurs.

The monkey puzzle tree

The monkey puzzle tree


Looking back along the path you can get an impression of what the plant life would have looked like back in dinosaur times. You could almost expect to see one come crashing out of the trees!

More Jurassic plants

More Jurassic plants

Find out more about the Jurassic garden.



Captain Cook and Whitby Museum

In my journeys I try to link places if I can and for some time Captain Cook lived in Whitby before he made his journey on the Endeavour around the world.

Captain Cook

Captain Cook

On this trip he took Joseph Banks as one of the naturalists and I visited the tribute garden to Joseph Banks earlier in the year at Horncastle.

I visited Whitby Museum which houses nine fascinating collections but on my visit I focused on collections featuring Captain Cook.

Whitby Museum

Whitby Museum

For more information about the collections visit the Whitby Museum website.

The Museum is set in Pannett Park and in a corner of it is the South Seas Garden set featuring plants and artifacts from Cook’s journeys in the South Seas.

South Seas Garden

South Seas Garden

South Seas Garden

South Seas Garden

Down in Whitby Old Town is a cottage in Grape Lane where the young James Cook lived as he learned his seamanship.

Grape Lane

Grape Lane

It is also a museum and outside are more plants connected with his voyagers.

More plants connected to Cook's voyage

More plants connected to Cook’s voyage

Inside the museum are several detailed collections about Cook and his life. I was particularly fascinated with the model of the Resolution, the ship Cook used in his second and third voyagers. It shows all the people and goods that was carried in the ship.

The Resolution

The Resolution

You can see more about this model here.



A visit to the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough

Building up to the launch of the Curiosity Box series next February I have been looking for curiosities to put on the website in the form of a curiosity quiz. However on a recent journey along the North Yorkshire coast I came across a building which was itself a curiosity.

It is the Rotunda Museum in Scarborough.

The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough

The Rotunda Museum in Scarborough

As the name suggests it is a circular building which opened as a museum in 1829 and is one of the world’s first purpose built museums. It was designed by William Smith which is considered by many to be the Father of Geology and the museum is packed with geological specimens which are displayed in a unique circular gallery.

In a side gallery is a display which takes you back to the time of the dinosaurs (Jurassic period) in Scarborough. It is one of the best displays of its kind I have ever seen.

The Rotunda Museum with its side gallery

The Rotunda Museum with its side gallery

To find out more about this truly scientific curiosity

To find out more about William Smith try this link and watch two films about his work.



Ettie’s Log #3 – Geese, Swans and Funghi

Continuing the adventures of Ettie the canal barge as she travels the canals of France.

We have just come through the Billy-le-Grand tunnel on the Canal de l’Aisne a la Marne.

Billy-le-grand tunnel

Billy-le-grand tunnel

Here are some other photographs from our trips in France.

Bar-headed Geese

Bar-headed Geese


Bar headed geese

Family of swans at St-Vallier

Family of swans at St-Vallier


Family of swans at St-Vallier on the River Rhone

Heron at écluse de Vaugris

Heron at écluse de Vaugris


Heron at écluse de Vaugris on the River Rhone

Mistletoe

Mistletoe


The pale yellow leaves on this tree belong to the mistletoe plant that is growing on it. The mistletoe plant is a hemiparasite (half parasite) because although it takes water and nutrients form the sap flowing up the tree it also makes food by photosynthesis in its leaves.

Exhibits in the Musée des Confluences, Lyon

Exhibits in the Musée des Confluences, Lyon


Trilobites in the Musée des Confluences, Lyon – a science centre.

Mushrooms at 2 écluses de Puichéric

Mushrooms at 2 écluses de Puichéric


Toadstools. Feeding fungus threads below ground have taken in enough materials to grow these “fruiting bodies” which are opening and releasing spores.

Bracket Fungus

Bracket Fungus


Bracket fungus. Feeding fungus threads inside the tree have taken in enough materials to produce this “fruiting body” which drops its spores into the woodland air.

Find out more about funghi fruiting bodies



A Visit To Brempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

If you look at a map of the Yorkshire coast you will see half way down it a peninsular called Flamborough Head. This geological feature is made of chalk and on its North side are Bempton Cliffs which is a nature reserve run by the Royal Society of Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Brempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

Brempton Cliffs Nature Reserve

There is a visitors centre where you can find out straight away what birds are present in the reserve by looking at a list on an information board which is periodically updated as new birds fly in. It reminded me of an arrival and departure lounge at an airport.

Recent Sightings

Recent Sightings

In addition to this information there are lots of keen volunteers on hand to give advice and updates as they are in radio contact with other volunteers at large on the reserve. I expressed an interest in spotted flycatchers, my favourite summer bird from my bird watching youth and was immediately directed to a clump of bushes where a volunteer was waiting to show me the latest arrivals – a flock of tree sparrows but no flycatcher .

A flock of tree sparrows

A flock of tree sparrows

I then moved onto the top of the cliffs for which the reserve is really famous. This is the breeding site of many species of sea bird and there is an information board provided to help you spot them.

Information Board

Information Board

The cliff edge is fenced off for safety and there are “observation posts” set out along its length where more volunteers can help you identify the birds and give you the latest information about the lives of the birds on the cliffs.

At an observation post

At an observation post

On Bempton Cliffs is the only mainland breeding site of gannets in England and it didn’t take me long before I saw one.

Spotting A Gannet

Spotting A Gannet

Also on the cliffs are breeding colonies of fulmars, guillimots, kittiwakes, puffins, and razorbills.

Breeding colonies

Breeding colonies

Find out more about The Bempton Cliff reserve. When I visited the site I clicked on the blog about Continental drift hits Bempton and scrolled down to find my spotted flycatcher!



A visit to Down House – home of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) came to live in Down House in the village of Downe in Kent, England in 1842. He lived there for the rest of his life.

In the garden at the back of Down House

In the garden at the back of Down House

Today the house is a museum and in one room the study has been reconstructed to appear as if he had just left it! The study is full of scientific instruments and specimens all carefully laid out with cabinets full of data which he used to construct his theory of evolution due to natural selection. He presented his ideas in his book On the Origin of Species which was published by John Murray in 1859. Nearly 140 years later I saw a first edition of this book at John Murray publishers who published my series of science books – Biology Now!, Chemistry Now! and Physics Now!

Charles Darwin did many experiments in the grounds of his house. He had a greenhouse in which he made discoveries on how plants grew and reproduced.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse

He had flower beds in which he did further research on plants.

The flower beds

The flower beds

Charles Darwin also used other parts of his grounds for experiments. He set up a lawn plot. This was a rectangular piece of ground which was left unmown so he could find out the types of plants that would grow there naturally. He observed the plot for three years and found that the number of different kinds of plants surviving there went down as the plants competed for survival.

The lawn plot

The lawn plot

You could set one up easily in the school grounds or perhaps at home and check Charles Darwin’s experiment.

In another experiment on the lawn a slab of stone was placed on the ground and secured into it by two metal rods. This was set up to test the activity of earthworms in the soil and became the Wormstone experiment. Over the years the stone gradually sunk into the ground due to the action of the earthworms burrowing though the soil and turning it over. By careful measuring it was found that the stone sank 2 millimetres a year.

The wormstone

The wormstone

You could set one up easily (without the metal rods) in the school grounds or perhaps at home and see how much the earthworms sink the stone in a year.

At the far end of the lawn a footpath was set up by a meadow and around a wood. It is called the Sandwalk. Charles Darwin used to walk around it to get exercise while he thought about his experiments and ideas.

The sandwalk by the meadow

The sandwalk by the meadow

As he walked around the Sandwalk Charles Darwin used five pebbles to help him count how many times he traveled round it. After one complete circuit he kicked a pebble out of the way and walked on until he had moved all five. By then he had walked about a mile and a quarter.

Five pebbles by the sandwalk

Five pebbles by the sandwalk

On the sandwalk, heading into the woods

On the sandwalk, heading into the woods

Find out more about Down House.



A visit to Selborne – home of Gilbert White

Selborne is a small village in Hampshire, England. It was the home of Gilbert White (1720 – 1793) for thirty five years. Gilbert was the curate there but he also made observations on plants and animals in the countryside around the village and these were published in a book called The Natural History of Selborne in 1789. This book has been so popular with naturalist that it has never gone out of print since it was published. It has stimulated a great many people to become interested in natural history including Charles Darwin and Gilbert is also considered to be one of the first ecologists.

The countryside around Selborne is still very much as it was in Gilbert’s time and his house called The Wakes is now a museum.

The Wakes

The Wakes

Standing in the garden with a new friend. Behind me is the part of the Wakes that existed in Gilbert’s time and was his home.

Gilbert was a keen gardener and grew wide variety of plants.

Gilbert White's Garden

Gilbert White’s Garden

In this part of the garden is the six quarters garden. In Gilbert’s time a quarter was a word used to describe a flowerbed so here we have six flower beds and each one is planted to produce blooms through the seasons from spring to early autumn. These quarter beds made me think of setting up some at home or at school – perhaps starting next spring.

Gilbert White lived in the time known as The Age of Enlightenment. This took place between the early seventeenth century and the late eighteenth century. It followed on from the Scientific Revolution begun more than a century before and this meant that Gilbert like many of his contemporaries had an interest in all things scientific. He combined his garden designing and his interest in science by having set up two obelisks called heliotropes which marked the position of the setting of the Sun at the winter solstice and the summer solstice. New versions of these heliotropes are found in the garden today.

Winter Solstice Heliotrope

Winter Solstice Heliotrope

The heliotrope to mark the Sun’s position at the winter solstice.

Summer Solstice Heliotrope

Summer Solstice Heliotrope

The heliotrope to mark the Sun’s position at the summer solstice.

Gilbert’s inventiveness reached beyond his garden to the grassland next to it known as The Park. In it he had a shelter made from a huge barrel known as a wine pipe.

The Park

The Park

The path to the wine pipe shelter. Behind the shelter is a wood on a raised chalk slope known as The Hanger.

The Wine Pipe Shelter

The Wine Pipe Shelter

The barrel has a strong roof to give some protection from bad weather.

The Wine Pipe Shelter

The Wine Pipe Shelter

There is just room for one person to sit inside the shelter. Gilbert designed it so it could be turned to face away from the wind and the rain. This allowed him to keep on observing the plants and animals around him in all weathers.

You can find out more about The Wakes and Gilbert White here.



A visit to Oxford

As part of my research for a new series of books to be published in 2016 I visited Oxford.

A very brief look at Oxford

At the top of my visit list was the Ashmolean Library. It is the first university museum in the world. The original building was erected in the seventeenth century to provide a home for the collection of objects from around the world made by Elias Ashmole. Since then the collection has steadily grown and is now housed in the building in the photograph.

Ashmolean Library

Ashmolean Library

Walking around the very busy Oxford streets I passed the Radcliffe Camera. The word camera comes from the Latin word for room and the building was completed in 1749 to provide room for the Radcliffe Science Library. Today this library has moved to another building in the city.

Radcliffe Camera

Radcliffe Camera

Across the road from the Radcliffe Camera is All Souls College which was founded in 1438. It is one of the thirty eight colleges which form the University of Oxford.

All Souls College

All Souls College

I also visited the Bodleian Library, one of the oldest libraries in Europe. In the early seventeenth century lecture rooms were build around a courtyard for the various teaching schools at the university. Above the doorway to each room was the name of the school. Here is the one for the school of natural philosophy.

The Latin name for the school of natural philosophy

The Latin name for the school of natural philosophy

From Natural Philosopher to Scientist

Natural history is a subject we are familiar with today and involves the observation and description of the plants and animals. Natural philosophy takes these observations of the natural world plus others such as observations in astronomy, chemistry and physics and uses them to develop explanations for them through reasoning. This approach to acquiring knowledge began with the Ancient Greeks, developed further by people such as Robert Grosseteste of Lincoln and Isaac Newton  and evolved into many different areas of scientific study. By the nineteenth century it was felt that the term natural philosopher needed replacing with a word to reflect all the different areas of scientific study being undertaken and the term scientist was made up by William Whewell in 1833 and has been used ever since.

Oxford’s earliest teaching room

In another part of the Bodleian Library buildings is the School of Divinity. It houses the earliest teaching room and examination hall in the University.

School of Divinity

School of Divinity

At one side of the room is a pulpit in which a student stands to deliver his thesis.

Pulpit

Pulpit

On the opposite side of the room is a pulpit in which the professor stands to hear the students work.

Professors pulpit

Professors pulpit

Others may gather below them also to hear the student.

Just a thought

I thought this process of delivering a report on research could be adapted for science in the classroom and used in the plenary session. For example when the children have been set a project of making an enquiry using secondary sources such as “finding out about bees” the report could be given by the student coming out to the front of the class standing to one side while the teacher standing at the other side listens to the report (It could be made more comfortable by both student and teacher sitting). It creates a more formal setting for delivering information than just reading out from tables around the classroom and perhaps helps develop greater confidence in public speaking.



Introducing Ettie

In the fifteenth century the Great Age of Exploration began with ships sailing around the world with their crews returning with stories and specimens of the plants and animals they had found. This tradition continues to this day but instead of specimens photographs and films are brought back of the habitats visited.

To recreate a little of this tradition my old friends Richard and Julia have agreed to send me photographs and descriptions of the wildlife they encounter as they travel on their boat Ettie through the waterways of France.

Ettie

Ettie

Ettie is a dutch style ‘motor barge’ built in 2011.

Ettie

Ettie

She is 18 metres long and 4 metres wide and has a 105 hp Beta engine and is designed to travel anywhere on the European Inland waterways.

Ettie

Ettie

Here is the route Ettie will take over a six month period in 2015. She will be starting in the west and sailing east then turning north and sailing towards Belgium

Ettie's route through France

Ettie’s route through France

As Richard and Julia’s reports come in I will enter them in a log and post them on here.
The first Log will follow shortly which contains photographs of previous journeys and the start of this one.



A tribute garden to Sir Joseph Banks – botanist on the Endeavour

I was put in mind of my idea that science is nearer than you think when I visited Horncastle in Lincolnshire. This is a town famed for its antique shops but walking along Bridge Street I came across the shop of the Sir Joseph Banks Society.

Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820) had an estate in Lincolnshire and spent many hours as a boy exploring the countryside. Later he sailed as a botanist with James Cook on the Endeavor and brought back plant specimens from their voyage around the world. Banks went on to encourage others to take up botany, travel the world and send back specimens to Britain where he developed the Royal Gardens at Kew into the most famous botanical gardens in the world.

Behind the shop is a tribute garden to the explorer and botanist. It is stocked with seventy species of plants. They have a direct link with him as either having been recorded by him on his voyage on the Endeavor or having been collected by botanists who he inspired to explore.

The tribute garden

The tribute garden

The tribute garden

There are plants for sale at the garden and I bought four to set up in my own garden as a tribute to a truly inspirational scientist.

My new plants

My new plants

The plant with blue flowers is Ajuga reptans commonly known as the bugle which grows naturally in Europe.

The plant behind it is Euphorbia dulcis a member of the spurge family. Species of Euphorbia can be found growing in habitats almost all around the world.

The plant with the round green leaves is Gunnera magellanica from the west side of South America from Ecuador to Tierra del Fuego.

The plant with the long red leaves is Unicinia rubra commonly called the red hook sedge. It grows naturally in New Zealand.



My Books

Follow the links below to find out more about my books and book series, as well as downloadable resources for teachers and parents using my books.

Books for Primary Schools
Books for Secondary Schools

Books and Resources for Teachers

Contact Me

I can be contacted in the following ways. If you have a picture for the Natural World Photo Gallery or the Science Exhibition Gallery, please send it by email.