International Award for NUI Galway Student Film-Making Project

Dr. John Murray, who runs the History of Life film-making project, in the Quadrangle Building, NUI Galway.
Dec 18 2020 Posted: 08:38 GMT

An innovative project at NUI Galway that encourages students to explore the evolution of life on Earth through the medium of film has been honoured by the Palaeontological Association, one of the world’s leading learned societies in the field. The History of Life film project was recently presented with the 2020 Gertrude Elles Award, which was established to recognise and promote high-quality public engagement in the field of palaeontology.

Since 2011, final year undergraduate science students taking the class History of Life have worked in small teams to produce short documentary-style films on a diverse range of topics, including the origin of life on Earth, the evolution of the first forests and land animals, catastrophic past mass extinctions and the emergence of early human ancestors. Created on shoestring budgets, these short films are uploaded to a specially created YouTube channel, where they have reached a wide global online audience.

The award from the Palaeontological Association was named in honour of Gertrude Elles (1872-1960), a pioneering palaeontologist, geologist and scientist. She is highly respected for her work on graptolite fossils and in deciphering the age of the Earth, and she was also one of the first female lecturers at the University of Cambridge. During the First World War she organised a hospital for wounded soldiers, which led to her receiving an MBE in 1920. Throughout her academic career, Elles was an enthusiastic teacher, an influential supervisor to young researchers and she remained committed to public outreach and communication of science.

Professor Charles Wellman, President of the Palaeontological Association, said: “The History of Life film project has not only led to students having a greater understanding of the topics within Earth history, but has also reached a wide audience, explaining key concepts of our science to YouTube viewers.”

This is the second international award for NUI Galway’s History of Life project: in June 2019 it received a MEDEA Award from the Media and Learning Association in Leuven, Belgium, for best practice in the use of media in education.

The project was developed and is run by geologist and palaeontologist Dr John Murray from Earth and Ocean Sciences in NUI Galway, with continuing support from the University’s Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT).

Commenting on the award, Dr Murray said: “We are delighted and extremely grateful to receive this award from the Palaeontological Association, particularly as it is named in honour of Gertrude Elles - a trailblazing palaeontologist and role model for those of us who aspire to teach science and encourage the next generation of researchers.

“The History of Life project has always been firmly focused on public understanding and engagement in science, and has only been made possible because of the energy, creativity and imagination of the students who produced these short films. The incredible words and visuals they have created onscreen have been nothing short of inspiring; they illustrate and communicate a profoundly important scientific message - principally concerning the epic story of where ultimately all life on Earth has come from, including humans.”

A short film compilation explaining more about the project, featuring music by alt-rock Dublin band Empire Circus, is available on the History of Life YouTube channel here:


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