Monday, 22 September 2014

Job available listening to earthworms talk to plants

I'm pleased to say that we're now advertising a postdoc position for our "Whispers in the dark" project investigating earthworm-plant interactions. Details of how to apply are here.

PhD vivas and bulging barrels

The Diamond Synchrotron user meeting was very interesting. It was great to hear about the varied science being carried out on the beamlines. Perhaps most concerning was learning about the bulging barrels of who knows what on the Sellafield site. The chances are what ever is inside is radioactive and flamable and there is always the chance that the bulges will eventually burst! Luckily scientists at Bristol like Dr Tom Scott and Diamond are working on techniques to work out what is going on without having to open the barrels. Once we know what is going on we should be able to deal with it, that's the theory at any rate. We also heard about research relating to water and metoerites, generation of magma in subduction systems and whether calcite on Mars could be used as evidence of life.

Delegates milling around the Diamond House entrance hall during the Synchrotron users meeting.
Last Friday I was in Manchester running a PhD viva in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences. Nicola Ashton was defending her thesis on soil development on a range of different rock types in Ireland. Nicola has done a tremendous amount of work characterising the inorganic, organic and microbial composition of the soils and defended her thesis well. She passed with minor corrections, well done Nicola.

Nicola and Richard Pattrick (one of her supervisors) celebrating in the bar after the viva

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Time travelling made simple

I had grand plans over the summer to blog daily from an excellent conference I was speaking at in Paris this August, entitled "The Geochemistry of the Earth's Surface", a working group of the IAGC (International Association of Geochemistry). For one reason or another my plans didn't come to fruition (certainly not because of the time taken visiting the Rodin Museum, Musee d'Orsay and Musee d'Orangerie) but it was an excellent conference, hosted by Jerome Gaillardet at the Institut de Physique du Globe, where Marie Curie had her lab. The papers from the conference have been published and are available on line for free.
The Arab institute in Paris is near the Institut de Physique du Globe and one of my favourite buildings in Paris. The front of the institute is designed to reflect Islamic art and comprises a series of windows each containing a series of light sensitive shutters which open and close through the day. Magical.

Tomorrow I'm off to another conference I've been asked to speak at - this time at the Diamond light source down near Didcot. It is their annual user meeting and I'll be talking about our use of FTIR (fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) to study earthworm calcite balls. If I'm really good I'll take some photos and write about it. the big news in the area is of course that Didcot A has now been demolished, however Didcot B remains so there are still some of the iconic cooling towers on view.

However, today's main topic is to congratulate Sam Parry, ex Reading PhD student, now at Syngenta, who has had the first paper published from his PhD. The paper looks at calculating how fast minerals dissolve in soils.

As I often write, I still get a thrill when I see a paper with my name on it in the literature. One of the nice things about this one is that although it is published now it has a publication date of 2015! This often happens as scientific publications put out issues early. In reality they do this as it helps the statistics by which journals are judged (perhaps a subject for another blog) but what it means is that I'm already having work published in 2015 which I always think is kind of neat.