Dr. Elizabeth Dingle helps make science more accessible with Pint of Science Festival

“I think [the goal is] just trying to engage people in the city with the research that is going on within the city.”

Photo courtesy of Centre for Natural Hazards Research

By: Kelly Chia, Staff Writer

Fast Facts

  • Name: Dr. Elizabeth Dingle
  • Pronouns: She / her / hers
  • Departmental affiliation: Geology, postdoctoral research fellow
  • Education: PhD (University of Edinburgh), Geography MSc (Durham University), and  Natural Sciences BSc (Durham University).
  • Work experience: Dr. Dingle has worked part-time as a senior geomorphological surveyor as part of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. She has also worked as an environmental scientist, mainly in geomorphology, water resources, and water quality, and as a Research Associate on various projects at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Fun fact: Dr. Dingle’s PhD thesis is titled “River dynamics in the Himalayan foreland basin.

When I entered Dr. Elizabeth Dingle’s office, my eyes were instantly drawn to what was hanging over her seat, a painting of a vivid mountain landscape with flowing rivers. She would later tell me that it was her first painting. To me, this immediately stood out as a symbol of Dr. Dingle’s passion for the environment.

As a postdoctoral fellow in the geology department (as of September 2018), Dr. Dingle primarily studies how rivers and landscapes interact with each other, which includes flooding. When asked to talk more specifically about her work, Dr. Dingle laughed, commenting that she is “kind of … all over the place,” as she has worked in the Himalayas and will be doing work in the Andes and in Canada.

For her thesis, Dr. Dingle completed fieldwork in the Nepali rivers to investigate how the size and location (i.e. the height of some river channels) affects how heavily flooded some areas get. Aside from that, she made a few return trips to Nepal for other projects. In 2015, Dr. Dingle returned to observe how the Bhote Khoshi, Narayani, and Sun Kosi riverbanks were affected by “landslide sediment inputs.”

Dr. Dingle has received many awards for her work, including Best Post Graduate Student 2017 from the Scottish Alliance for Geoscience, Environment, and Society (SAGES).  Dr. Dingle has given talks on sediment dynamics in the Himalayas at Western Washington University and the University of California, Berkeley.  

Currently, Dr. Dingle is researching what controls changes in the mobility of river channels, what causes rivers to move around, and other facts surrounding this process. This entails how sediment moves out of mountain ranges and how it gets deposited when it reaches floodplains.

When asked what spoke to Dr. Dingle personally in her research, she chuckled, pointing at her office window. Outside, we could see lovely mountain peaks, if somewhat obscured by the campus. Dr. Dingle then told me that she was fascinated with “how landscapes get to looking the way they look and what processes drive that evolution.”

Previously having done work in the University of Edinburgh and the University of Glasgow, Dr. Dingle had heard of the Pint of Science initiative during its beginning stages in London. At the time, she was a PhD student. Dr. Dingle described the creation of the event as an effort to “bring science to people.”

I felt an instant connection to this idea of bringing science to the people and Dr. Dingle was happy to share her thoughts about the importance of public outreach events like Pint of Science. It dawned upon me that as an SFU student, I had easy access to research publications. However, the general public has to face off putting paywall. On top of that, Dr. Dingle and I discussed how research can feel alienating for the general public because of how intimidating the language can be.

“The idea of it isn’t that we’re going to get a bunch of scientists to come give you really easy science. They’re going to tell us about the cutting-edge stuff they’re working on, but in a way that we can understand it or anyone can understand it.”

Pint of Science, Nerd Nite, and other non-profit initiatives like Cafe Scientifique are events that help close the gap between the general public and scientific experts. Dr. Dingle states “Pint of Science is special I guess because it is part of this big international festival which is happening in so many places at the same time.”

The event format of Pint of Science in particular aims to be more interactive than a typical lecture format. Freedom is given to the organizers on how they wish to run the event, as well as to attendees, who can choose the subjects or speakers they are interested in.

When she moved here, Dr. Dingle had looked into speaking at a Pint of Science event, but was shocked to discover that it had not reached Vancouver yet. Dr. Dingle, then, found herself in the interesting position of coordinating Pint of Science’s debut, along with her graduate students.  Pint of Science is coming to Vancouver for the first time since its start in three UK cities in 2013, and it’s one of 25 Canadian cities participating. The reception has been great so far, too; at the time of writing, four events had already sold out in advance.

This year, the Vancouver festival focuses on three themes: Beautiful Mind (neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry), Our Body (medicine, human biology, health), and Planet Earth (geosciences, plant sciences, and zoology). Ordinarily, the festival would focus on a total of six themes, but this was a manageable amount for the festival’s first year and played off the strengths and passions of Dingle’s team of volunteers. Dr. Dingle expressed particular excitement over the topic of Planet Earth, as her passion lies in that subject. A fan of learning, Dr. Dingle was excited at the prospect of attending some of the talks surrounding the other themes in order to learn something new.

When asked her most important objective with Pint of Science in Vancouver, Dr. Dingle takes a moment to thoughtfully answer the question.

“I think it’s just trying to engage people in the city with the research that is going on within the city. I think that science is often just put behind a closed door and you don’t really know what’s actually going on. It’s really just nice to share what local researchers are doing and try to engage more people.”

While Dr. Dingle explained her work to me, I thought of how I would not have thought about how sediment factors into flooding deeply on my own. This conversation with her illuminated how many factors controlled river channels, which I had thought of as simple. Just so, initiatives like Pint of Science will bring so many lightbulb moments for the public.

Editor’s note: Tickets and more information on Pint of Science can be found on their website.