Simon Kelley

Simon Kelley

I'm an academic at the Open University responsible for the virtual microscope for Earth sciences and working on the Moons and Numbers MOOCs. I'm a geologist specialising in finding the age of rocks.

Location Milton Keynes


  • That's correct :-)

  • Constantly questioning is the standard way science progresses Zsuzsanna, please don't mistake it for narrow mindedness. There is a huge ask to validate homoeopathy and it will only gain acceptance or be disproved by testing. The same is true of other sometimes controversial subjects. We could have chosen the numbers around climate change for this same exercise...

  • But CO2 is heavier than air. If you fill a balloon with helium it floats up in air, but a balloon filled with CO2 lies on the ground.

  • Interesting point about the cost of producing tap water Norman. I guess in areas where desalination is important that might be a key factor. The video illustrates how numbers are used to impress, it happens a lot in adverts too.

  • Thats amazing I'd never have predicted the largest range would be in Hertfordrshire!

  • True, you'd get a slightly different answer but the weight of the pieces of fruit will be dominated by the water contents and there will be less water in the peel but it doesn't change the final result because the differences in the skin are small in comparison.

    There's another MOOC that follows on from this one Basic science:understanding experiments and...

  • But not too far behind, there's a whole weekend before the last week starts !

  • Scottish Isles are actually pretty rocky - Mull ad Skye have high mountains, so the Isles would be smaller but still there - Scottish whisky distilleries however are on worrying low ground ...

  • The air (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon) dissolved in water is very small compared with the water molecules. There are commonly bubbles of air in ice but still they are not a large proportion of the total mass.

  • The most important thing about the Greenland ice sheet is that it is on land. So while it is ice on land it has no effect on sea level, but when it melts and the water flows into the sea then the level rises.

    For large ice sheets on the ocean then the low density does matter because it means the ice floats.

  • You can round up or down, depending on whether the number is greater or less than 5. We cover more on this later in the course.

  • The Antarctic Ice is the much larger volume which is why the media tends to cover Antarctic ice sheet melting - the ice is melting fast there too.

  • You're right Nick but the volume doesn't change much, and there are lots of measurements of the annual variations - see the graphs in this article

  • Agreed

  • If it makes you feel better Peter, you could try calculating how long it would take at the current rate of melting. Maybe you'll feel better, but our descendents may not.

  • No polar bears were hurt in the calculation

  • The level doesn't get much more 'mathsy' than this Mary

  • Yes I still have mine in the loft too.

  • Thanks Mary, honestly its not even necessary to understand every step, hope you enjoy the rest

  • Thats right - the number, I'm not sure about the total population...

  • Yep that looks correct to me.

  • For info the last time we ran this course in 2014 it had one of the highest retention rates on Futurelearn. Its relatively short (4 weeks) and as Sion says we aimed it at people wanting to refresh or improve their understanding of numbers. Most people use numbers all the time in their lives, they just don't think about it

  • Its discussed later in the course, basically its now possible to work out the total volume of water in all the oceans and rivers based on satellite data.

  • Its like a lot of similar videos you see in the news Audrey, there are some headline numbers you remember and the rest just floats by. The number of swimming pools is the thing I remember, don't know why...

  • 42.00000000

  • I never listened to my Physics teacher Sarah. I probably should have done :-)

  • You have to wait until week three for the answer Karl - its there honest.

  • Good point Nick, now if I can just make my calculator do that it would be much easier.

  • Wearing my glasses, its very nearly correct, probably need an extra comma to break up those 6 zeros in the middle of the full number

  • Scientists try to test any statement made about the world we live in, and to do that we use numbers.

  • Thats a good summary Simon. It cooled slowly and has been hit by many meteorite impacts since it formed.

    Making thin sections of rocks is a standard technique, there are some videos on YouTube but mostly put there by equipment manufacturers. Briefly a slice of rock about 2-3 mm thick - one face is polished and stuck to a small piece glass - then the rock...

  • If you can view the thin section in Futurelearn it should work on the website too - its the same software. Perhaps its taking longer to appear, the white blank that appears should fill with the thin section view. The only thing I can suggest is that older versions of Internet Explorer don't handle it.

  • Its here Michael
    You can find it using the search facility - just type 'giant' into the search box on the front page.

  • All the Moon rocks are stored and prepared at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston USA. They have special set of machines in clean labs dedicated to the Moon rocks so no chance of cross contamination by Earth rocks. The cutting is done by diamond impregnated saws and cooled by water. There are several videos on YouTube on making thin sections but mostly put...

  • It will have been a metal saw with embedded small diamonds (industrial diamonds, no engagemetn rings were damaged in the process!). The cut is constantly bathed in water to provide cooling and also wash away the dust.

  • The large minerals in the field of view are olivine, the colours vary because they are at different angles to the polarised light. There are some pyroxenes but not easy to see in this field of view and the background is mostly glass which appers black between crossed polars.

    You can see more of this rock and abit more information on the virtual microscope...

  • Hi Mary

    Don't worry, no sample recognition in the tests !

    Hope you enjoyed the Earth science module.


  • Great observations, this is a rock that was once beautifully pristine and had clear crystals just like the basalt, although coarser grained because it cooled more slowly. However its been hit by large asteroid impacts over the last 4.3 billion years.

  • Hi John
    There isn't a direct link to identify every point in the thin sections, the site is intended to allow you to explore the rocks and learn to recognize the different minerals and textures.

    The easiest way to ask questions in the MOOC about any mineral or texture by using the SHARE button in each thin section in the main site (we didn't include all...

  • No problem, its just the the link asks me to log into and the published graph should be visible without logging in. I'm beginning to wonder if the site sometimes doesn't work properly.

    Hope you enjoyed the course.

  • ...Shivers...

  • You can revisit as many times as you like.

  • Yes thats right !