Excited to see which of us you voted for! Thanks for a fantastic two weeks!
EducationBerryfield First School (1984-1988), Bledlow Ridge CC (1988-1992), Aylesbury High School (1992-1998), Durham University (1998-2001)
QualificationsBSc (Hons) Natural Sciences – Earth Science & Physics (Durham University), PhD Geology (University of Glasgow)
Work HistoryHawaii Volcano Observatory (Volcano Monitoring) University of Glasgow (Research - Earth Science), Birkbeck College London (Research - Geology), University of Manchester (Research - Materials Science), LMU-Munich (Research - Volcanology), Durham University (Research - Geoscience), University of Strathclyde (Lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering)
Current JobSeveral! Teaching students, researching what makes volcanoes tick, using experiments and x-ray imaging, researching geological and envionmental based solutions to major sustainability challenges (energy, water, food, built envrionment)
University of Strathclyde
Favourite thing to do in my job: work out what the next question is….. answering the last one is the (relatively) easy bit.
About Me: Super enthusiastic singing volcanoloist and engineer with super fluffy dog and a love of all things wild.
My Work: What makes volcanoes tick? How do we makes soils healthier? How do we get oil and gas out the ground, and put CO2 into it? What makes a good material? I use x-ray imaging to find out!
I finished school and wasn’t sure what i wanted to do next… I went to University to study lots of subjects (Natural Sciences allows you to do more than one subject for part, or all of your degree) and when I finished I still wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do…. that’s not something many people will say. I really enjoyed my science degree and wanted to move into research, but I was a glutton for punishment and studied two subjects at honours level (Earth Science and Physics), and I wasn’t sure which area of research I wanted to specialise in.
So… I went to Hawaii to work on the Kiluaea volcano, and I got hooked. There is something unbelievably amazing about watching the planet grow in front of your eyes; and to walk across a bit of the rock that you saw solidify from a red hot flowing river several hours before. I think everyone will admit that volcanoes are spectacular, powerful, sometimes dangerous but always exciting and unpredictable places to be.
Looking at the magma beneath volcanoe is very high detail made me realise how important the evoltion of the structure of the rock was in controlling how thevolcanoe behaved (this is mostly of what I work on now). This got me into thinking about other areas where the material structure controls the behaviour – and since then i have worked across the areas of Materials Science, Geology, and Engineering – working on projects on iprove the way we mine copper out of rocks, to how we make steel girders, how the structure of chocolate changes the way it tastes, and the way arthritis effects knees – and this is just a selection.
The thing all these projects had in common is that we were looking at the processes in 3D. X-ray tomography is a little like having a CAT scan at the hospital, you get a 3D image of the sample without having to cut it up. The reason I took the job was that magma is a liquid, and like any other liquid, it behaves according to a set of physical rules – we just don’t know what they are yet because we have never been able to watch what happens inside the magma as it’s doing its thing (melting, flowing, erupting, solidifying).
As of October 2019 I started work as a Lecturer in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Strathclyde. I still work in 3D and 4D imaging, and I still work on magma, but now I am also looking at soils, rocks, and building materials – all to try and build a lower carbon, more resilient and energy efficient future.
Looking back I can see that my being unsure which subject to specialise in has, in fact led me down a path where I apply both every day!
My Typical Day: it could be anything: being in the lab, up a volcano, giving a lecture, sleeping (if I've been working a night shift): but it will involve lots of tea!
My job is always changing, and there is no such thing as a typical day. However, unfortunately since leaving Hawaii, I don’t often get to spend my days climbing volcanoes. In fact, like most researchers these days, I spend a lot of my time in front of a computer, analysing and interpreting my data.
I guess the most interesting days are the ones when I am running experiments on the synchrotron. These facilities are shared across all research areas and all countries, so we get very limited time to do the experiments and I have to be very prepared. Because we get so little time, when we have an experiment we work in two shifts 24-7. I therefore need at least 5 other people so three of us can awake at all times. The best, but hardest bit is the problem solving. A lot of the experiments can only be done on the beam line, so although we usually have an idea about what to expect it doesn’t always happen that way, so I need to have a plan B, plan C, plan D….. I have to expect the unexpected.
What I'd do with the prize money: Take some of my magma experiments (ones that can be done at lower temperatures!) into schools and get more people interested in geology…. it rocks!
I would like to give some students the opportunity to visit the synchrotron and see an experiment in practice. It’s hard to describe quite how impressive these facilities are, and it’s hard not to be inspired by science when you see what they can do – from DNA to dynamite, metals to magmas, biology to astrophysics, there are people using the synchrotron to do research into so many different things.
However I can’t take everyone into the beam line, so I would also use some of money to put together volcano based experiments that myself and others could bring to your school, so you can have a go at repeating some of my (and other peoples) volcano experiments.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
enthusiastic, outgoing, cheerful
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My lecturers at University made me realise I could make a career doing what they do – research and teaching – so I guess they probably deserve the credit.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Easy question – Science
What did you want to be after you left school?
I had no idea, but I knew I was good at the physical sciences (physcis and chemistry) and wanted to something that was interesting and not the same day-in day-out
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Something practical, probably outdoors – maybe a ranger in one of the National Parks?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
I listen to anything and everything…. so not enough space to answer that here
What's your favourite food?
I love fresh, simple Italian food – especially when it’s served with a nice view of a volcano in the background!)!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
looking down the vent of a volcano and watching the lava lake “doing its thing” 10m beneath me. Truly breathtaking – they had to drag me away!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To get a job doing exactly what I want (researching how stuff works), to be able to visit all the wild and wonderful places on this planet, to have a self-cleaning house and a self-filling fridge
Tell us a joke.
I can never remember punch lines…. but they say that igneous is bliss