Looking for Life on Mars

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A Sixth Form Science Society Lecture, by Professor Mark Sims, of Leicester University Department of Physics and Astronomy

Dealing with controversial topics is a standard part of teaching in Science, and the topic of extra- terrestrial existence is no exception. The influence of popular science fiction has meant that the idea of aliens inspires in students a whole range of opinions and questions, not all of which are rooted in scientific fact. So it was with some trepidation that I welcomed Professor Sims to Ratcliffe, to talk to students about the possibility that life may exist, or have existed at some point in time, on the Red Plant that we know as Mars. Professor Sims was able to give us a detailed account of the reasons that we think life should be able to exist in such a hostile environment, and provided photographs and data from exploratory, remote-controlled visits to the planet. This was well attended by students from Years 11 to 13, who were able to gain an understanding of the work being carried out and the contribution of British scientists to Mars expeditions. Of course, what they really wanted to ask Professor Sims was ‘Do you believe in aliens? The interesting point is that he didn’t say no, thus lending further to the controversy that surrounds this area. This was a very interesting evening, and an excellent opportunity for students to see the wider application of scientific ideas.

Jane Schofield