As Christmas was approaching it was time for another Midlands Energy Graduate School (MEGS) Christmas Conference, held in Birmingham on December 12 2013. Ever since the first MEGS conference I attended in 2012, I am still unable to put my finger on why I am so fond of MEGS events.
Firstly, there is the impeccable choice of venue. The latest conference was held at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, in the Birmingham University campus. Occupying this 1939 art-deco building for a day almost felt like a privilege to me. My first thought when I peeped into the wood-panelled auditorium was ‘’Will the presentation of my MRes dissertation project do justice to a stage just inviting you to sit back and enjoy a concert?’’ Throughout the building details of the original interiors, materials and craftsmanship seemed to complement each other’s high quality and still managed to stand out individually, despite the presence of modern day equipment and furniture that cater to the building’s current function.
Then, there is the variety and quality of presentations on energy related projects. This year’s topics ranged from modelling energy use in retrofitted dwellings to microscopic-level modelling of radiation effects in materials used for nuclear energy; from optimising the milling of olive-pits for use as biofuel to capturing and converting CO2 from molten carbonate salts. Although I didn’t expect to take a great amount of interest in energy projects irrelevant to the built environment and building occupants, I found myself engrossed in the projects of fellow MEGS participants, perhaps because of the level at which the presentations were pitched and my growing ability to ‘read between the slides’ recognising familiar tribulations and small triumphs experienced by student researchers.
The key note speaker, Dr Robert Sorrell, Vice President for Public Partnerships of BP, provided the viewpoint of a leading international energy company. Having set the context by discussing the scale of energy demand, Dr Sorrell addressed the challenges faced by the energy sector, namely energy security, access to resources, improving energy efficiency, sustainability concerns and human resource capacity. According to BP, an additional 120.000 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) graduates are needed in the global oil and gas industry.
Lastly, aside from a convivial sit-down dinner, MEGS organisers always include an enjoyable activity for the delegates. This year’s activity will be difficult to surpass! During a viewing of the Barber Institute’s Galleries, we found ourselves surrounded by the works of Rodin, Van Dyck, Botticelli, Turner, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso and many more art heavyweights.
In the coach, hired by the organisers to bring us back to Loughborough, I was already thinking of presenting my PhD project at a future MEGS conference. However, the memory of the introductory talk of MEGS Director Professor Colin Snape, of Nottingham University, earlier that day had me wondering whether there will be another such event as MEGS’ funding lasts only up to May 2014.
I realised that, although there is an abundance of conferences to attend, the MEGS conferences stand out because they succeed in creating a sense of fellowship and collaboration around a single point of focus which extends over multiple disciplines and numerous institutions. As a PhD student researching only a small aspect of the complex low-carbon energy sector, I find the MEGS Management Team’s attention to detail and commitment to collaboration to be inspirational. A sentence in the MEGS website says it all ‘’We’re all working to improve the world we live in – why wouldn’t we work together?’’
Article and photos by LoLo 1st year PhD student Nafsika Drosou
MEGS website: http://www.megs.ac.uk/megs/index.aspx