Are aliens coming to eat your face?
Alumnus Dr Adam Stevens (Physics 2007, PGDE 2008) researches astrobiology at the University, and is answering that age old question: is there anybody out there?
The postdoctoral researcher, who gained his PhD in Planetary Science from the Open University, investigates our understanding of habitable environments in the universe, and in particular, the best ways to find past and present habitable environments on Mars. It's a subject matter that has always fascinated Adam.
"Since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in Mars", he says. "Growing up, that interest grew with me. Now I am lucky enough to be researching the red planet and hopefully at some point I will join the ranks of academics whose work I have enjoyed reading."
Study of life
That research comes through Adam's role at the UK Centre for Astrobiology (UKCAB), the University's hub for astronomical research that covers the study of life in extreme environments to the development of experiments and science for the exploration of space.
"After I graduated with a degree in Physics from the University of Edinburgh, I began working as a teacher for some years", says Adam. "But the desire to engage in research was really strong. So I decided to make exploring the solar system a professional occupation rather than an amateur ambition. That's how I went on to eventually complete my PhD and then joined UKCAB."
And now Adam is taking his research to the public by hosting a talk as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
"Are Aliens Coming to Eat Your Face?" will see Adam lead his audience on a verbal and visual tour of what we know about life in the universe. Part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas - a series of events that encourage public debate and discourse with a host of intellectual minds - the talk will see Adam and his compere faciliate discussion with the audience.
"Audience participation is not required," says Adam, "but it's certainly encouraged!"
And those who are wary of their lack of expertise shouldn't be - the show is for everyone, as long as you're over 18.
As Adam states: "The talk should appeal to anyone who wants to find out how accurate your typical alien invasion film is, anyone that is keen for humans to explore the universe, or anyone that’s worried about having their life infiltrated by a flying saucer."
Scary and comforting
Indeed, some tongue-in-cheek analysis can be expected but ultimately this show will tackle questions that probe the more sensitive side of human existence.
"The subject of life in the universe fascinates many people," says Adam. "It's one of the most fundamental questions we have. Humans seem to have a natural aversion to loneliness, but also a fear of invasion. So thinking that we are the only beings in the universe is maybe scary and comforting in equal measures."
Adam is no stranger to public performance. In fact his Fringe show taps into his previous career as a teacher when outreach programmes played a pivotal role in communicating science to young people.
"Ever since I worked as a teacher I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the opportunities I’ve had to communicate science," he says. "I like working with kids and adults, talking about biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and, obviously, Mars. I take whatever chance I can to do outreach, and organise and deliver my own workshops with local schools, and attend events as a STEM ambassador."
And as for his own ambitions, they're pretty simple:
"I would like, eventually, to do something that people will remember - and more than anything, someday I would like to watch the sun set while standing on the surface of Mars."
More information about Adam's show is available on the Edinburgh Fringe website: