After a seemingly endless wait I arrived in UCD Science campus with the sun blazing on my back. I’m taking this as a sign of good things to come. I am re-united with Karen Bacon, the co-ordination of the project and no doubt the person who I will be hassling on a daily basis with my incessant questions. I get an introduction to Eileen, the second teacher collaborating on the project. With no time wasted we get down to brass tacks. Schedule delivered we learn that we have a 7am start the following morning. At first I think Karen is joking, a nice little wind-up for the newbies. Then I remember Science isn’t a nine to five proposition. Results have to be grabbed when and where you can. I remember that this is one of the nice things about research, no two days are alike.
After running through safety procedures, we get the grand tour. In many ways things haven’t changed since my last stint in UCD ten years ago. There’s a considerable amount of organised chaos. Post docs and undergrads, phDs and technicians deftly work around each other, space being at a premium. The corridors and labs are full to brimming of freezers and fridges and box after box of leaves, fossils and samples of all sorts of weird and wonderful things.
With obvious excitement, undimmed by experience, Karen slides out a suitably aged wooden drawer with a hotchpotch of rocks that I can’t Identify. She selects one particularly dusty grey specimen, unremarkable from the others, and breathes gently onto the rock. At once the shape of what looks to me like a species of grass comes into view. We are told the sample is 200 million years old.
Two hundred million years. I’m having what Homer Simpson would describe as a ‘cosmic’ moment. It’s difficult to conceptualise that the fossil I’m looking at was around a long, long time before humans. I suddenly feel very insignificant.
After lunch we stroll along the pitches, cross a long orchard ( which I’m told is an apple museum!), to arrive at the péac facility.
At the péac, we get an opportunity to view the ‘chambers’. Each of these mini-worlds is essentially a door into the past, re-creating the atmospheric conditions that existed across the millennia. As I look through the doorway of one chamber, I can’t help but imagine the giant beasts that must have roamed through plants just like these, unaware of their impending demise!
As the day draws to a close, I cast my eye over papers describing the many ways in which plants adapt and change to cope with varying environments. I feel a little over-awed. There is something heroic about plants. They have been around long enough to face innumerable environmental challenges and they are still going strong. Changing, adapting, surviving. We could learn a lot from this motto.