My Geology Note-blog

A chronicle of my PhD journey and other geology writings

Month: October, 2014

Women who inspire me

This week I went to a talk launching the new year’s programme of ScienceGrrl Swansea which included a really great recap of everything they had done in the last year in partnership with Soapbox Science, Athena SWAN, Materials Live and the Swansea Waterfront Museum. Anyone who knows me personally knows I believe in equality of opportunity for everyone but in the case of STEMM subjects in academia there is an alarming dropout rate for women. (Which strikes me as odd as I know several very successful academics who take full advantage of flexible working hours and the option to work from home when needed so they and their partners can raise a family and continue to work). Clearly something more is at work than child-baring and working conditions.

I think the tides are turning as those women who were the vanguard of female academics are now lecturers, professors, even heads of departments and pro-VCs. Many might say, “ok, you’ve done it, women have broken the amorphous silica ceiling of academia” but this belies the still slightly insidious thought still in the back of girl’s heads: “science isn’t for girls”. I know I’ve had those thoughts when wondering if I’d ever make it in academia.
As part of the talk my Engineering Supervisor read out a piece he’d written for a newspaper about a woman in science who inspired him. That person was his sister. He encouraged us all to think about those women (and men!) who inspire us and got us into science.

So here goes:

There are a good many people that got me interested in science. Adam Hart-Davis’ Local Heroes taught me about British scientists from Humphrey Davie to Mary Anning. The days when I was ill were spent watching the education slots on BBC (do they still do that?). I hungrily ate-up the Open University material that used to have to be recorded at four in the morning and anything else that was about science on telly. I’ve had some great science teachers, university lecturers and supervisors. The wave of educational content on YouTube such as SciShow, ViHart and Notthingham University’s channels such as Periodic Videos and Numberphile has continued to fuel my curiosity in the natural world. Indeed, before YouTube I read my mother’s rocks and minerals books, my school library didn’t have one science book I hadn’t leafed through and my DK children’s Encyclopaedia must be my most read childhood book.

But I think there is one person who inspired me most, one person who I think always knew I’d become a PhD student and that was my High School Geology teacher, Mrs H*.
Mrs H over the years had taught me RE, Geography and Geology (it was that kind of school). Her form room, which was my form for Lower and Upper Sixth, was the geology lab. And. It. Was. Awesome. Specimens everywhere, geology posters on the walls, old OU tapes we could borrow to revise from, textbooks, microscopes, even a small sample cabinet containing tourmaline and opal (amongst other things). Best of all was Mrs H herself. She did her degree in geology and geography and was the daughter of a miner who worked the Pennine Orefield. She got interested in geology through him when he’d bring her home samples of fluorite (at the time a waste product of the galena mines).

She frothed with enthusiasm for geology and as a result her’s were some of the most engaging lessons I had in Sixth Form. She also encouraged us to pursue our own interests in the subject. During a fieldtrip me and J-Ro* (our other geology teacher who helped out with fieldtrips) got talking about how an outcrop we had seen had formed. By the end of the drive I had the bare bones of what would become my lab based coursework experiment (maybe I’ll talk about that in a future post). A teacher wanting an easy life marking coursework would have suggested I do a tried and test experiment like others (some looked at porosity of sediments, others, the formation of desiccation cracks) but not Mrs H. (It paid off, my work got special mention in the examiner’s report, something I am more proud of than my final mark. She even phoned me up to tell me).

There are many great women in science, the above mentioned Mary Anning, Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Ada Lovelace, Beatrix Potter, Florence Nightingale, and they are all an inspiration within their respective fields (as are their male counterparts) but if it wasn’t for Mrs H, I don’t think that today I’d be calling myself a Geologist.


*these were my teacher’s nicknames but hopefully they wont mind being referenced in that form.


Grasmere Cave and Bracelet Bay

Today I’d like to share a couple of recent little trips I took and the geology I saw:

Firstly, before I started work I went out walking with family around Grasmere. Not only were we enjoying a nice walk we knew we’d be passing an old quarry, now more man-made cave, that is in the hills between Grasmere and Rydal Water.

A fun fact about the cave is that a) it’s been used for concerts. (Good Acoustics?!)

b) It could fit the entire population of Ambleside within it.

Below are some typically arty photos of the cave.


P1010510 P1010508 P1010515

Before the weather recently broke in Swansea I went on a little field excursion to Bracelet Bay which is by Mumbles Head on Swansea Bay.

I took some photos (no surprise, see below) and made some poor quality notes in the back of my diary. So I followed good practice in keeping notes but didn’t record them in the right sort of place. So to preserve them for prosperity and to illustrate how a geologist might keep a notebook (I make no promises that my notebook technique is exemplary! In fact, I know it’s not, don’t follow my example!). Anyway, here goes:

Bracelet Bay 27/9/14 10:55

Around the back of the café by the stone benches.

After receiving a tip off from a dept. geologist I’ve gone in search of fossils!

– Fine grained, grey rocks.
– 2 scales of bedding ~40 cm & ~10-15 cm
– Jointed twice in the vertical ~E-W and NNE-SSW
– Highly fossiliferous
– Minor veining – calcite
– Fossils are matrix supported.

Wackestone (?) limestone
Some more dense – packstone

– Shells both concave and convex upwards (death assemblage?)
– Possible bivalves – vary from <1 cm up to 5 cm.

Photos taken.

P1010528 P1010530 P1010532 P1010534 P1010528 P1010529

I’ll admit the photos are more interesting than the above.


Some sort of adult or something – also science in the media

This episode I talk about: Argos, 3D printing, shake and vac, reading journals, volcanoes and rescue missions.

For those who have been following my recent exploits (aka saw a facebook post or something) will know the story so far, if not, to summarise, this is my first full week as a PhD student with the department of Geography and Engineering.

My days have mainly involved reading journal articles, going to the library to aquire more textbooks and journals, reading those, going down to the XRCT lab to check out the data they’ve already got on tephra and fiddling with learning how to use the software. Oh, and watching the fish tank and 3D printer while the software loads data (seriously, it’s hypnotic, I must do a timelapse sometime).

Yesterday I acquired somewhere to live which meant I had to go to Wilkinsons (other discount stores are available) and by crockery. But today, today I went to Argos, which called to mind:

Seriously, the entire time I had Bill Bailey in the back of my mind saying
“the laminated book of dreams… why is it laminated? To catch to tears of joy…”

New houses that aren’t new never have that new house smell so I indulged in something seriously retro. I’d be surprised they’re still making it except I knew they sold it about 10 years ago so after 30 years of it, why stop! Yes indeed:

Why yes I did make those gifs myself just to illustrate my point… Oi! I’m not that sad!

Blimey, when did I become so domesticated? I must be some sort of adult or something.

Right, onto something more serious:
Recently there’s been some exciting science in the media. Firstly, the girl with the 3D printed bionic arm:

Born with a condition effecting her hand the 3D printed hand (in fashionable pink and black) means that Hayley from Inverness can now grab, hold and manipulate things with her hand. The report says that it might help to boost her confidence in school now as before she would hide her hand some the other children wouldn’t see. I’ve seen some pretty cool 3D printed stuff (hero shrew vertebra, the Eiffel tower, meshing gears, a model of a jet engine to name but some of the things in the lab) but this is remarkable because it’s customisable, quick to manufacture and low cost. The world needs more 3D printed bionic limbs! NHS, make this happen!

In more sad news, the recovery effort looking for Malaysia fight MH370 has produced something surprising:

The hunt for the missing aircraft has lead the search crews to create sea bed maps in never-before-seen resolutions. The data is quite remarkable and even though I’ve seen bathymetry maps before there’s still that thrill of exploration about them. Especially when you think that if these ridges and valleys were above sea level they would dwarf every mountain in the UK and the footprint of a single volcano could squash a good size British town and leave no trace of it. Truly awesome.
But coming back to the actual story, one can only hope and pray they find the plane soon.

And finally, the suddenly eruption of the Japanese volcano, Mount Ontake, has left dozens kills and even more trapped:

The authorities confirm that 47 have died in the eruption; rescue attempts continue despite gas emissions, ash and continuing seismic activity. Despite having some of the best monitored volcanoes in the world the eruption in Japan took everyone by surprise, which is why there were hikers on the mountain at the time. This once again highlights that volcano monitoring is not yet an exact science. Until volcanologists have all the available facts about a volcano observation and mitigation is the best they can do.

Mount Ontake is a stratovolcano and the second highest volcano in Japan. It is also one of the sacred mountains of Japan and frequently climbed as part of spiritual rituals [source]. The volcanos in Japan are formed by the subduction of the North American and Philippine plate under the Eurasian plate. The water and other volatiles released by the subducting plates causes the solid mantle to melt and erupt explosively. Explosive volcanoes are the more deadly because, while still spectacular and hazardous, effusive, lava-flow based eruptions can, literally, be walked away from. Ash fall, on the other hand, can collapse roofs, pollute water supplies, seed rain clouds causing torrential rain and lead to chronic respiratory issues.

Next time: I talk about two mini-fieldtrips I’ve been on recently, complete with pictures. Also, more on tephra.


An academic paper related PhD comic: