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'Science of Christmas' explores reindeer riddle

Why does Santa use reindeer to help him deliver his gifts, and could he have chosen another animal?

Academics from the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus posed this and other Christmas-themed questions at the annual Science of Christmas event last week.

Local primary schools joined the event online, as Dr Kelly Moyes asked “Why are reindeer good at helping Santa deliver gifts?” The children discovered how reindeer are perfectly adapted to help out, as well as learning how other Arctic animals have adapted to their environment.

Further talks were given by Professor Juliet Osbourne and Dr Alex Thornton. Professor Osborne explained why pollination is essential if we want to celebrate Christmas with holly, mistletoe and ivy. Dr Thornton imagined how different animals might get together to celebrate Christmas – from fish to meerkats, he explored the many types of family structure we see in the natural world.

12 classes from 10 primary schools across Cornwall attended the online Zoom event, making it the largest Science of Christmas to date. The talks are now available to view on the University of Exeter's YouTube channel.

A teacher from Marlborough School in Falmouth said: “We thought the Zoom was amazing.  In particular Class 3 enjoyed learning about which reindeer help Santa and which bugs are pollinators for which plants. We would love to be involved again.”

Professor Dave Hodgson, who introduced this year’s talks, said: “Christmas is a magical time of year. The Science of Christmas uses a mixture of humour and science to inspire the next generation of scientific researchers in primary schools around Cornwall, to prove that scientists are human, and to share the enthusiasm of researchers in Biosciences and Geography at the University of Exeter.”

Date: 17 December 2020

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