EGU Blogs

10 Minute Interview

10 minute interview: Louise Hawkins at AGU 2015

It’s been a shamefully long time since I last posted, or carried out a 10 minute interview, for the blog. What better place to find willing recruits and interesting research to showcase than the largest annual gathering of geoscientists: the American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting?

For those of you who’ve been before, there is no doubt that attending the AGU Fall Meeting is a daunting experience. Add to that presenting your work, as an oral presentation to boot and it becomes quite a beast.

I popped along to one of the geomagnetism sessions at this year’s Fall Meeting to listen to Louise Hawkins’s talk on the strength of the magnetic field during the Devonian. Despite the imposing setting and a room was packed with experts in geomagnetism, Louise delivered a pitch perfect presentation and navigated the questions with ease. I caught up with her later to have a chat about her research and we also spoke about her experience at the meeting.

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Meet Louise! (Credit: Louise Hawkins)

Meet Louise! (Credit: Louise Hawkins)

  • You are: Louise Hawkins (
  • You work at: Liverpool University
  • Your role is: PhD – 2nd Year.

Q1) What are you currently working on?

We think the geomagnetic field 360 million years ago, during the Devonian, was much weaker than it is presently. It may also have been flipping, or reversing, much more frequently than at present but we don’t have much direct evidence either way at this point..

It seems that leading up to a Superchron, a long period of time when the magnetic field does not reverse, the field behaves in this way, i.e., is weaker and prone to flipping more often. So, is there a pattern going back in time? If there is, the time it takes to switch between the two behaviours ,indicates that it may be controlled by mantle convection.

Why does it matter? We are able to model the recent field, but we know that the field’s past behaviour could be more extreme (long periods of no reversals, for example). The only way to understand its most extreme behaviour is to go back in time and find evidence for it. Importantly, if we are seeing a transition in the behaviour of the field in the Devonian it tells us something about Earth internal structure at that time.

Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

I don’t really have a typical day.

As soon as I get to the lab, I get started with experiments. I measure the strength of the field and I do this on Tristan – the microwave palaeointensity system. Tristan is pretty unique: it is the only instrument of its kind in the world.

In my experiments, I take tiny, tiny rock sample (5mm diameter), microwave them in order to heat them and extract information about the ancient magnetic field. I average about 2 hrs per sample – so I’m only able to complete 3 to 4 experiments in a day. It’s quite a tedious process which doesn’t need all my attention continuously, so you’ll often catch me trying to do some work, or watching Netflix while I’m running the experiments.

If I’m not doing experiments, I’ll be analysing the results of my experiments at the computer.

There is also lots of training as part of my PhD programme. At the moment I’m taking a maths course and another course in software carpentry, teaching me to use tools like Python and how to programme. In the past I’ve attended courses on how to run a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM), for instance.

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

The samples I’m working on are Devonian aged rocks from Siberia: intrusive rocks, such as dykes and sills. When I measure the strength of the magnetic field recorded by the samples, they suggest that the field at the time they were formed was very weak. This isn’t too unexpected as it fits the pattern in geomagnetic behaviour before a Superchron.

However, I’ve also had some interesting results. When my samples are heated and measured, a lot can go wrong with experiment e.g. the magnetic grains can alter, etc., so we perform checks to make sure the results are reliable. My samples have all behaved in a way that might suggest that the experiments have gone wrong but they pass all of the usual, and not so usual, checks. It seems this bad behaviour is a natural phenomenon as opposed to resulting from alternation or anything else. I came to the AGU hoping to start a discussion about that and get others people’s view on the subject.

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?

Coming here (San Francisco) and presenting a talk at AGU in the second year of my PhD features high up there.

In the future I’d like academic career. I’d like to do a post-doc(s) after my PhD and hopefully one that would allow me to travel abroad as part of that.

Alternatively I could open a cake shop! Why a cake shop? Cake is delicious and why not? Baking is the other thing I love to do.

Louise on fieldwork, with the help of the Geomagnetism Lab Technician, Elliot Hurts, who featured in the first ever 10 minute interview! (Credit: Louise Hawkins)

Louise on fieldwork, with the help of the Geomagnetism Lab Technician, Elliot Hurts, who featured in the first ever 10 minute interview! (Credit: Louise Hawkins)

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

I’ve been to Scotland for field work – collecting samples – near Dundee. I’ve previously attended a conference in Prague (IUGG) and now I’m here in San Francisco.

Q7) What is your highlight of attending the AGU 2015 Fall Meeting?

I really enjoyed the Bullard Lecture given by Steve Constable. I’ve also enjoyed ‘fan-girling’ on big figures in palaeomagnetism too.

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

Fubarium – If it accidently gets mixed in with your experiment, then everything goes completely fubar , i.e., a disaster movie, but it has a short half-life so you just need to wrestle your results from Godzilla for two weeks, or save your lab from an oncoming meteorite and then you’ll remember you’ve got to get back to your thesis.

Louise completed her undergraduate degree (MSci) at Liverpool University – including a research project in sulphide mineralogy of North Wales and its deformation textures. Then she went onto a 2 year career in industry working for CGG Robertson as a mineralogist before joining the core magnetics group, were she carried out work in the fields of– magentostratigraphy and magnetic fabrics of cores for the oil industry. She is now back at University doing a PhD in Geophysics and studying the Earth’s past magnetic field.

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!

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  • 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.


10 Minute Interview – Live from EGU 2014

Today I had the great pleasure of interviewing Cindy Mora-Stock.

It was a great success as I was finally able to put a face to the twitter handle that I’ve been following almost from my first days on Twitter.  What’s even better is that I can safely say I’ve come away from the interview having made a new friend, as Cindy and I hit it off straight away. The final bonus of choosing to do some 10 minute interviews at EGU 2014 is that I’m actually speaking to people face to face, rather than arranging the interviews via email, you simply can’t beat having a conversation with someone!

Cindy is presenting her research on Friday morning, 10.30-12.30 at session GMPV37 Volcano monitoring with instrument networks: novel techniques, observations and interpretations – Blue poster hall B779. Cindy has also published a number of papers, details of which can be found here.

For these live interviews from EGU2014, I’ve introduced a new question  regarding the interviewee’s experience of the conference. Remember, I’m on the look out for people to interview, so PLEASE get in touch via the blog or on twitter (@lauRob85) if you’d like me to feature you and your research!

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Q1) What are you currently working on?

Seismicity and velocity structure of the Villa Rica Volcano, southern Chile.

Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

I would say there is never a typical day. As soon as I get into work I catch-up with colleagues and friends in the office. At the start of every week I like to make a To-Do list for that week and I set out to accomplish something from my To-Do list every day: that might be a figure, a section of code or writing something up. My day tends to end between 6-7pm dependant on how successfully I’m getting through the To-Do list.

Q3) 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?

The answer to this question has to be two fold.

Firstly, having had the opportunity to communicate science to people who may have limited scientific knowledge, through studying and researching geosciences.

Being able to visit and get to know places off the beaten track and the scenery of those locations is what really ignites my passion for science.

In a few years time, I’d like to be working at a University or as a researcher at a volcano observatory. Whatever I end up doing, I’m sure I want to continue to be involved with science through science communication, maybe through working in museums or a career in science communication.

Q5) To what locations has your research taken you and why?

I have two favourites: 1)The Chile desert – although I’m not a big fan of places without shade, the experience of being in a place without water, mobile phone signal, water or shelter makes me ask myself the question: If something happened to me out here, what would I do? The colours, structures and geology you can observe in the desert are incredible! 2) A national park in Chile (I can’t quite remember the name, sorry!). There is an amazing view point where you overlook a forest burnt down by a volcanic eruption, but in between the skeletal looking trees you can see new trees growing. That place makes me realise just quite insignificant humans are and how planet Earth would continue on regardless if the human race where to die out.

Q6) Do you have one piece of advice for anyone wanting to have a career similar to yours?

Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture! What your research focuses on might seem insignificant at times, but there is someone out there who does care and to whom your research matters. Motivation is really important!

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

The opportunity to meet up with old friends and colleagues who work at other institutions and countries as well as meeting and networking with new people.

The short-courses and workshops are also a highlight for me. A couple of years ago I attended a Fourier Series short-course which taught me more in a couple of hours than I learnt during a whole module at University!

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

Transportanium – an element that would allow tele-transportation. It is important that it is good enough at its job that your body’s atoms aren’t chaotically rearranged once you reach your destination, so that you are still yourself.


When not studying volcanoes and their assocaites seismicity, Cindy can be found head banging at a metal music festival or bar! You can contact Cindy via twitter @Cindy_Sismologa

10 Minute Interview – Finding the right path

It turns out, I’m not so great at keep the promises I make our blog readers… I AM working on the next post for the Making the most of your PhD series.

In the mean time, this 10 minute interview actually fits the theme of the Making the most of your PhD series quite well. This week, I bring you Hayley Dunning, of the Natural History Museum, London.  Whilst Hayley’s current role is as a science web editor, the route to  finding her path and career wasn’t straight forward. It is sometimes difficult to see how a love of science can be continued into a fulfilling career that does not involve academia and research. Hayley embarked on a PhD and decided  it wasn’t  right for her. As a science web editor she has been able to combine the two things she loves most, science and writing. I talk about PhDs a lot in Geology Jenga, but actually, the whole point of the 10 minute interviews is to highlight the unsung heroes  of science (in the traditional academic sense) and Hayley is most certainly one of them!

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  • You are: Hayley Dunning
  • You work at: The Natural History Museum, London.
  • Your role is: Science web editor


Q1) What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m building pages about the Museum’s cetacean strandings program. They have been recording details of stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises around the UK for 100 years, and now they want to the public to be more involved in reporting and identifying strandings.

I also write news articles about whatever new research is published by the Museum’s scientists; today it’s about meteorites (as it often is!).


Q2) What is a typical day like for you?

If there’s a journal article coming out, I’ll read the paper and call the scientist to find out more about it. Often I’m looking for a nice colourful anecdote – something the national media wouldn’t get. It’s fun to learn about the scientist’s personal adventures.

If there’s no news that day I’ll make web pages, usually about the research that goes on behind the scenes, the massive collections the Museum houses or something that the public are thinking about. For example, the other week I wrote up pages about the false widow spider in the UK, trying to allay some of the undue panic!


Q3) Does your job allow you to have any academic outputs?

I don’t write academic papers, but since I decided to go this route I’ve written a lot of articles for magazines and other publications. I used to be on an academic path, working towards a career as a volcanologist, but I found it too narrow in the end. Since, I’ve written articles about intelligent machines, body clocks, meteorites from Mars, drugged mummies and everything in between.


Hayley with Sir David Attenborough, or at least the bit she was able to keep!

Hayley with Sir David Attenborough, or at least the bit she was able to keep!

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?

At the Museum, the false widow spider report was a highlight. I just heard today it helped make October one of the most successful months ever on the website.

A long article I wrote about fracking in Canada was a personal achievement. I like writing about all sorts of different things every day, but it’s also nice to get a deep expertise in something. I guess I’m still at scientist at heart!

In a few years I’d like do more features and long-form science writing, bringing an art back to the joy of discovery. Non-fiction books would be great, but as long as I’m still learning I’ll be happy.


Q5) To what locations has your research taken you and why?

Volcanology took me to Canada, Alaska, Mexico and Japan, for which I am very thankful! At the Museum, the fun stuff tends to come to me instead. Working for such an old and renowned public-facing science organisation has its perks – last week Sir David Attenborough and Bill Bailey unveiled a statue of Alfred Russel Wallace at the Museum. I grabbed a random postcard from my office and managed to get an autograph from Sir Dave!


Q6) Do you have one piece of advice for anyone wanting to have a career similar to yours?

Go for it. Here’s the silly fact about me: I have three Masters degrees. Two are in Earth sciences; the second started out as a PhD (the third is in journalism). I’d always liked writing, and it was honestly a lightbulb moment when I realised I could marry science and writing as a career. I thought long and hard about giving up my PhD – I’d never get to call myself Dr Dunning! But I realised in the end it wasn’t giving up, it was not wasting time and effort on something I ultimately didn’t want, and wasn’t going to use. I’m not suggesting it was a sudden decision that anyone should take lightly, but if there’s something you really want to do, don’t let a seemingly pre-determined career get in your way.


Q7) If you could invent an element, what would it be called and what would it do?

I’d love to create an element with the power to make me less sleepy or to make things float, but practically it would be nice to have a radioactive element that would act as a powerful and relatively clean fuel source. I think I’d call it Infinitum (although it’s chemical symbol would be Hd  – I want some glory!)


Hayley did an MSci in Environmental Geoscience at Bristol where she spent a year abroad in Iceland. She then did an MSc in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta, and finally a Masters in Journalism at the University of British Columbia. Now she’s not a student any more, she’s trying to figure out what to do with all this spare time that isn’t filled with assignments and deadlines!