Science and adventure combine for family event

From Cayman Brac caves to digging up dinosaur bones in Montana and standing before a classroom at the University of Manchester, Phillip Manning has made a life around science and natural history. 

For his next adventure, he is one of four principal scientists getting ready to embark on an 18-month journey around the world in a tall ship to reproduce Charles Darwin’s 1831 voyage of HMS Beagle.  

Mr. Manning will speak about his ongoing research with dinosaurs, the caves on the Brac, and his new adventure in a talk titled “Dinosaurs, Lasers and Comets,” geared toward families, on Wednesday night at St. Matthew’s University. 

Professor Manning said he tries to “use dinosaurs as a hook to get people interested in science,” especially kids. 

Mr. Manning’s “day job” is chairman of natural history at the University of Manchester. He is the first person to serve in that post since 1892. He also runs the Interdisciplinary Centre for Ancient Life at the university. “I love my science,” he said, and he uses events like the one this week to share that love and hopefully get kids interested in basic science. 

This is his third trip to Cayman. His research here is based in the caves on the Brac, which he said “give us the hindsight that nothing else can.” He describes cave systems as a trove of natural history data. Later this year he plans to publish an article describing two new species discovered in the caves on the Brac, though he wouldn’t say what they are or when the article will be published. 

Mr. Manning said he uses Cayman as an example in his talks around the world that environmental protection “is not all doom and gloom.” He points to what he called the success of Cayman’s Blue Iguana reserve, which has brought the native reptile from being listed as “critically endangered” and on the brink of extinction to being listed as “endangered.” 

For the new project, tracing the round-the-world path of Darwin and HMS Beagle, Mr. Manning said they are finalizing plans and funding to rent a tall sailing ship with space for laboratories and classrooms. The four scientists aboard, including Mr. Manning, will look back through Darwin’s work and trace his actual steps around the world to “put a 21st century spin on Darwinian science.” 

They will travel under sail power but use modern scientific techniques that were “200 years out of Darwin’s reach.” 

During the journey, Mr. Manning said, they plan to produce a six-part documentary about the voyage. They will also use the attraction of the ship to engage people around the world with science at every port of call.  

“Dinosaurs, Lasers and Comets” will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 28, from 6-7 p.m. at St. Matthew’s University, Regatta Leeward 3, West Bay Road. 

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Researchers with Phillip Manning’s team explore the caves on the Brac. – Photo: Phillip Manning
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