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The Science of Poetry: Prof Patrick Corbett

Tickets info

Date & Time
Saturday 4 – Sunday 19 April
24 hours
Age Restriction
Ages 12+

Audio | Ages 12+

The Science of Poetry: Prof Patrick Corbett

About the event

Find your inner bard and discover how poetry can help raise awareness of the biggest global environmental challenges. As part of Elements of EdSciFest, Prof Patrick Corbett from Heriot-Watt University explores the use of poetry in science communication with a focus on the Earth sciences.  

Perhaps these poems will inspire you to pick up a pen? You might even be inspired to submit to the Geopoetry 2020 event on National Poetry Day.

For more scientific poetry, see The Science of Poetry: Dr Colin Will

On the Thorns of a Quadrilemma 

Where should we get our energy? 
When we want it almost free 
To the north we put Acceptability 
To the west is bare Affordability 
To the south lies Sustainability 
To the east, Security; need to keep the lights on 
Scotland is world-beating 
In its demand for heating 
The targets are challenging 
How are we managing? 
We are doing better than most!   

Patrick’s NotesOn the Thorns of a Quadrilemma 

This poem sets the framework for scientific thinking about Energy.  The Royal Society of Edinburgh published their report on Scotland’s Energy Future and framed the debate around four equally important lemmas – what do the people of Scotland want in terms of energy?  

1) prioritise climate change 

2) affordability 

3) social acceptability and wellbeing  

4) energy security 


Thunderstones are part of Danish Folklore 

And also known as Echinoids, Micraster, in geo-lore 


As fossil Sopindsvin were also named Zebedee 

Or Seppede1, or Sepedei2 stones, I see 


Carry one in your pocket, or hide one in  

Your thatched roof and you won’t be struck by lightning 


Had I known this back then 

As a young rookie mudlogger when 


In that coldest Aars winter of 1979 

Froze the water and curdled my blood to a brine 


In the shack that caught fire just after I'd gone; 

Could have saved all the pain with a Thunderstone 


References from Thunderstones poem:  

1. in Aarhus 

2. in Adslev 

Patrick’s Notes: Thunderstones 

This second poem is about a rock, a fossil I picked up in a field many years ago – a mementolith.  The fossil of an echinoid, I found out many years later from a visit to the National Museum in Copenhagen, has a place in Danish folklore. They were believed to have resulted from thunder strikes and, if you kept them in your dairy, they could stop the milk from curdling!  I carried the stone to a lecture in Copenhagen to stop the audience throwing (verbal) rocks at me! I worked at the start of my career on a rig in Denmark that caught fire just after I left – perhaps the Thunderstone could have prevented that too. 

Carbon Moves 

Carbon moves in the water, 
through element cycling; 
there is dissolved organic matter 
in brown Scottish rivers, sucked-out, 
by an inverted riverine lung, where the invisible, 
low-molecular, beast 
quickly reverts to dioxide. 
All stems from science’s providential discovery 

in a small stream in Guyana 
Marine black shale dynamics 
record massive carbon moves. 
Geologists use the past to look further into the future. 
Seas can go anoxic, as did the 
Mid-Cretaceous Sea, after levels 
rose by a quarter kilometre. 
The orbital lands every 23,000 years. 
Ouch! H2S poisoned the whole ocean  

in just a thousand, instantaneous, years. 
Let’s not go there again too soon!  

Keep on the look-out for more scientific  

signals of carbon on the move!

 Patrick’s Notes: Carbon Moves 

This third poem marks a lecture given by my colleague, Professor Tom Wagner of the Lyell Centre, at the British Sedimentological Research Group meeting in December, 2019, held in Edinburgh. I often use poetry in order to capture the key messages I hear in scientific lectures! In this one, the research trail led from a Scottish river to the Amazon and the realisation that carbon is always on the move – sometimes with evidence of uncomfortable outcomes in the geological past. 

Midland Valley of Scotland 

Like a crystal in the sky above us 
Scotland’s central rhombus 
maps from Port Glasgow to Stonehaven, 
to Siccar Point and down to Girvan 
The Carboniferous rift valley plain, 
with margins of red Devonian, 
pierced by intrusions of Arthur’s Seat, 
Berwick Law and the Heads of Ayr 
The Highland Boundary Fault 
traps coal seams and oil shales, 
with ribs of fluvial building stones, 
parallel to the Southern Upland Fault 
The isostatic raised beaches, 
now all caravans and golf courses, 
once proud ice-sculpted terrain, 
scoured out by gravity and frozen rain 
Majestic Firths of Clyde and Forth, 
supported by Rivers Tay and Irvine, 
draining Uplands and Highlands. 
No shortage of water; Adam’s wine. 
What would Scotland be 
without this hidden gem: 
fertile, productive, resourceful? 
The rocks - not just the people. 

Patrick’s Notes: Midland Valley of Scotland 

This fourth poem celebrates the wonderful rich geology of the Midland Valley of Scotland! I walked from Siccar Point to Stonehaven and Port Glasgow to Girvan from October 2016 - March 2018, covering the entire coastline of the Midland Valley. I think many don’t realise the geological wealth that they were bequeathed and that is such an important fact of Scottish life! 


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