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Laura Roberts-Artal

Laura Roberts Artal is the Outreach and Dissemination Manager at The Water Innovation Hub (University of Sheffield). Laura also volunteers as the Associate Director of Communications for Geology for Global Development. She has also held a role in industry as Marketing Manager for PDS Ava (part of PDS Group). Laura was the Communications Officer at the European Geosciences Union from the summer of 2014 to the end of 2017. Laura is a geologist by training and holds a PhD in palaeomagnetism from the University of Liverpool. She tweets at @LauRob85.

A new tool for the interpretation of palaeomagnetic data

A new tool for the interpretation of palaeomagnetic data

As part of my PhD research, I spent quite a lot of time at the Fort Hoofddijk (informally known as The Fort) – the palaeomagnetic laboratory of the University of Utrecht (in the Netherlands). For a little insight into what carrying research out in a 19th Century bunker, housed within the grounds of the botanical gardens of the University of Utrecht is like, take a look at this blog post that I wrote a while back.

I digress, The Fort is a pioneer when it comes to palaeomagnetism, not only in develoiping new experimental methodology, but also in the building of novel equipment (which I go into a little bit in the post I referenced above) and in creating new tool for the analysis of data. They’ve recently released a new, totally online platform, created by their MSc student, Mathijs Koymans, for the interpretation of palaeomagentic data. Better still, “the website promotes the ability to share paleomagnetic data between researchers through a common an online environment,” say the authors. 

The application has three portals:

    1. The interpretation portal allows for the analysis of demagnetization data and interpretation using eigenvector analysis (Kirschvink, 1980). Currently, data can only be imported in the Utrecht format.
    2. The statistical portal includes ways to visualize and evaluate paleomagnetic data (declination-inclination pairs) using common procedures and tests.
    3. A miscellaneous portal which currently allows for a Bootstrapped Oroclinal Test (including an oroclinal foldtest), as well as net tectonic rotation analysis.

I’ve not used the tool yet, but it all seems straight forward: demagnetisation data can be added to the application by clicking the add demagnetization data button below. Once new data has been added, the data can be visualised and interpreted in the interpretation module.One thing to keep in mind is that for time being, data has to be entered in the ‘Utrecht’ format. It’s not difficult to convert your data (there is a handy link to what this involves on the site itself), I did it a number of times throughout my PhD. Some information which will be useful to have to hand when uploading your data is some sample parameters such as: name, step, dec, inc (x, y, z) and the authors recommend adding core and bedding orientations for rotation between specimen/geographic/tectonic coordinates.

The application is still in its infancy and the creators highlight it is a test version of the application, they welcome feedback and bug reports to continue to improve the website. If you have used it, or plan to in the near future, leave a little comment of how you found it, I’d love to hear!

Apologise for the unusual technical nature of this post – I’ll try and find time to explain the science some of the concepts I touch on here for those who might not be so familiar with the field.



How to survive your PhD – A free online course

Image Credit:  Graduation Cap Cupcake  by   Clever Cupcake (distributed via  flickr).

Image Credit: Graduation Cap Cupcake by Clever Cupcake (distributed via flickr).

“The Ph.D. is an emotional roller coaster, and how well students react to these emotional pressures is crucial to their success, ” says Inger Mewburn, of The Thesis Whisperer fame and Director of research training at the Australian National University.

With the emotional and personal strain a PhD can cause, I couldn’t agree with Inger more. During my PhD journey, this was an aspect that I felt was often overlooked by my institution, and frankly, a lot of the time by me too! Making a proactive decision to find a work-life balance, whilst at the same time striving to produce quality research, is difficult.

I stumbled upon an article in Science Magazine’s Career section which advertises the upcoming, totally free, online course on ‘How to survive your PhD‘. It does start tomorrow, but you can definately still enroll. Given that the start of a new academic year is just around the corner, and the beging of new PhD programmes to boot, this might just be perfect timing to take part.

There is plenty of information and details of the course on Inger Mewburn’s blog and you can also watch a video trailer, see below.

If you do enroll, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the course and how you thought it was valuable, so be sure to share them in the comments sections below!

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Outreach on the slopes.

Outreach on the slopes.

One of the beauties of living in Munich is that the Alps are, practically, on your door step. As I mentioned in one of our more recent posts, now that I am here, I’m looking forward to exploring the city, its surroundings and further afield!

Making it to the top

View of the cable car ascent from the Zugspitze summit.

View of the cable car ascent from the Zugspitze summit. Looking north towards Lake Eibsee. (Credit: Laura Roberts)

That is exactly what I did a few weekends ago. After a little research, I chose to visit the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, at the foothills of the Alps. I’d discovered it offered some good hiking and that the town itself was lovely too. It turns out it is also home to Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze, a 2962 m towering mass or rock, ice and snow. Climbing to the summit is beyond my capabilities but I still found the less challenging alternative to reach the summit is not for the faint hearted either! It starts with a pleasant (but slow) train journey to Lake Eibsee. You then transfer on to a cable-car which transports you from ca. 1000m above sea level, right up to the summit of the Zugspitze in a hair-raising 10 minute (near-vertical) ascent! Like I said, not for the faint hearted! You can make the whole journey on a cog-wheel train (Zugspitzbahn), if you don’t fancy the rather scary cable car.

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10 Minute Interview – The new Science of Geocognition

We are back! After a few weeks without posting, we thought it was about time we blogged! I have a HUGE backlog of 10 minute interviews that I have to transcribe from EGU 2014. The General Assembly was a great place to meet lots of young scientists doing all sorts of diverse and extremely interesting research. I’ve already posted a couple of interviews I carried out at EGU 2014 (you can read the one with Cindy Mora Stock here and the one with Young Scientist Representative Sam Illingworth here), but there are many more to come.

Today is the first of those! I had the huge pleasure of meeting the lovely Hazel Gibson at EGU. We’d ‘met’ on twitter and I was a huge fan of the content she shares on the social media platform. A girl after my own heart, she is big into science communication and outreach :)! Talking to her was fascinating, her research is focused on the up and coming discipline of geocognition which is how people perceive and understand Earth Sciences. Think psychology meets Earth Science. Importantly, it explores how your background (are you a knowledgeable audience, e.g. a geology researcher, or a non-expert. e.g. a member of the public) affects how you perceive the importance and relevance of Earth Sciences. I wasn’t able to attend Hazel’s talk at the conference, which was hugely disappointing, so I can’t give you more details. However, if you are keen to learn more, Hazel’s excellent blog is a good place to start!

hgibson.jpgVital Statistics

  • You are: Hazel Gibbson
  • You work at: Plymouth University
  • Your role is: PhD – 2nd Year.


Q1) What are you currently working on?

I study what people understand about geology, from a psychology perspective: known as geocognition. It combines geology and psychology by looking at how different audiences understand Earth Sciences. A key point is, how do professionals, academics and the public (including policy makers and teachers – it s a broad audience and can be broadly divided between an expert/non-expert audience) communicate and perceive Earth Sciences.

Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

My time is mostly spent in the office; I spend a lot of time interviewing participants and transcribing interviews. I have to construct the interview results into a visual interpretation of what is in interviewees head. In a sense, I have to try and create a model of what they are thiking. I also spend a lot of time working on outreach at the university. I have recently been involved with the Lyme Regis fossil festival. To take part in that I’m having to travel straight from EGU to festival.

Q3) Can you provide a brief insight into the main findings of your recent paper/research?

I am presenting an oral presentation at the EGU 2014 Assembly on Public Perceptions of geology. At the moment geosciences literacy models are used to build communication, if any models exist at all. But initial findings suggest that they don’t go far enough when comparing expert and non-expert perception of Earth Sciences because they are too logical and simplistic. When compared to a public model you get a lot of differences, not necessarily because the public’s model is wrong but because they haven’t had the training, so their mental models are different and structured differently, so it is misleading to think they are not logical.

Q4) What has been the highlight of your career so far? And as an early stage researcher where do you see yourself in a few years time?

I attended the unconventional gas conference and won a prize for her poster! This was a great achievement because the conference was mainly Industry lead. Presenting a poster on public perceptions of the subsurface to such a technically audience and wining a prize for it was very rewarding.

I would like to continue researching this field because it is a growing field. There is currently, lots of discussion from geoscientist about the importance of public understanding of Earth Sciences but not very much formal research. This means there are lots of avenues you can go down in this field, such as teaching. In the future I see myself teaching at Universities.

Q6) To what locations has your research taken you and why?

My research based in South west of the U.K. so I spend a lot of time in Devon & Cornwall particularly. These areas were chosen for my research due to there being a strong historical geology link, as the area used to be heavily mined and there are lots mining traditions which still remain. An interesting question I am trying to address is how does the cultural identity affects people’s perceptions of Earth Science?.

Q7) What is your highlight of attending the EGU 2014 Assembly?

The highlight of the Assembly is being able to meet other young researchers. You get very isolated as a PhD student. As an interdisciplinary student I often feel like strange, like I don’t belong to either research community my work sits within and that can lead me to think my problems are very much my own. The Assembly gives me the opportunity to meet and talk to people who are also doing interdisciplinary PhD. It’s nice to know there are people who are in the same boat as me.

Q8) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do?

Unobtanium – mineral that is in all the films. Solves the energy crisis and create clean fuel and clean itself up! It would probably glow as well.


Hazel undertook her undergraduate degree in physical geography with geology at Plymouth University. She then moved to Masters in hazard assessment, at Portsmouth University. Her first job was as an engineering geologist in Brisbane. The position gave her the opportunity to save lots of money, which allowed her to move onto a working as a volunteer in Mt St Helen’s as a ranger for a season. This role gave Hazel her first taste of public engagement and she enjoyed it so much she realised this was the career for her. After her time at Mt St. Helen’s she went onto the Natural History Museum in London and worked as a science educator and then moved onto a role as an Earth Science Identification Officer – identified what people sent in! She us now back at Plymouth University completing her PhD.

 If you’d like to get in touch with Hazel you can reach her on email or twitter.