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Scientific Profile

Greetings, science types! In particular, science communicators, and all volcanologists and planetary scientists are especially welcome to this virtual abode of mine. I'm an experimental volcanologist and staff writer at IFLScience, the popular science communication network. I write about all kinds of things, from quantum mechanics to viral outbreaks, but my specialities are anything Earth Science related, the psychology of cats and psychopaths, climate change, and the weird depths of the deep, dark cosmos.

 

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I’m an experimental volcanologist, originally from Imperial College (MSci first class honours, Geology w/ Year Abroad) and afterwards moving on to the University of Otago, supervised by Assoc. Prof. James White, to complete a PhD. I design and conduct experiments at both laboratory bench-scale and field-scale, using compressed gas and chemical explosives to generate artificial volcanoes. More often than not, these volcanoes take the form of maar-diatreme systems. Despite being the second most common type of volcano – and providing as much economic benefit to our very own species as they are a particularly unpredictable hazard – much of the interpretation associated with these systems is heavily debated. In particular, the processes that occur syn-eruption are almost completely hypothetical; little physical evidence exists within the sedimentological architecture to indicate as to the specifics of the eruption. Consequently, using these analogue experiments, their eruption and subsequent depositional processes are simulated and compared to the wealth of fieldwork data available on the subject.

 

I’m also a quantitative volcanologist: using mathematical modelling and digital packages – in particularly, those that use Particle Image Velocimetry – I’ve created both kinematic and thermodynamic models designed to explain (1) pre-existing phenomena associated with both ancient and recent historical maar-diatreme volcanism and (2) to predict the distribution of energy and volcaniclastic deposits in future eruptive events.

 

A long-standing interest in the stars and the motions of the solar system, the galaxies and the universe – and, to be honest, all of time and space – has led to an increased focus on planetary volcanology in recent years, with parts of my thesis dedicated to analysing the volcanism of Io.

 

In addition to these scientific endeavours, I’m a photographer – my work has been featured in The Telegraph and given awards by The Independent, Insight Guides and Photobox, with one photograph appearing in the world’s largest photobook – the size of a double-decker bus, in case you were wondering! As I’m sure you’ve already spotted, my work covers a broad coalition of beautiful landscapes and cityscapes, from Asia to Oceania, from Europe to the Americas.

 

I’m also an author, with my surrealist travelogue mash-up The International Anthem due to be published by the end of next year.

 

Lastly, I’m a science communicator: I write mainly for I Fucking Love Science, the world's most popular science communication portal, on all kinds of scientific curiosities. In addition to this, my work explaining difficult scientific concepts such as entropy, thermodynamics, volcanology and extinction events to non-scientists has been featured on Nature’s Scitable educational network, Discover Magazine, The London Economic, The Conversation, Richard Dawkins’ personal website, SciLogs.com, and the blog portal of the European Geosciences Union, to name a few. I’ve also given talks across the UK to various institutions extolling the exhilaration and virtues of being an Earth Scientist, with a focus on the perspective it gives – institutions ranging from primary and secondary schools to embassies and universities.

 

I don’t just like what I do; I love it. The first time I remember my universe changing significantly as a child was around the age of five, when I first opened up a picture book about our solar system. Not only did I find out that stars were so very, very far away from Earth, but that they were impermanent. Every star, included our own, would one day flare and fade forever. The most massive stars hiding amongst that beautiful ocean of shimmering diamonds would shatter into supernovae.

 

Two years later, as a seven year old with dreams of becoming a scientist already, I recall standing on the back of a boat on an English river, watching the Hale-Bopp comet streak slowly across the blackened sky. My dad explained to me that we would never set our eyes upon it again: the comet would streak back towards the far reaches of our solar system, and only return to our part of space more than two thousand years in the future.

 

Two thousand years ago, the Roman Empire was thriving, expansionist, and just reached the shores of ancient Britain. The apocalyptic eruption of Mount Vesuvius would conceal Pompeii and Herculaneum from view for the next two millennia. The codex, the first known form of the modern book, appeared. The Chinese Han Dynasty was spreading language and innovations throughout the region; the astronomer Liu Xin documented over a thousand stars in his lifetime. And yet, to the solar system, to the galaxies and the stars, and to the universe, this period was a mere blink, a simple change in the tide of time, a brief interlude between empyreal beginnings and the day when the lights in the sky turn dark and time ceases to be.

 

As Dawkins rightly says, "we are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people that could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Sahara."

 

So I became a scientist because I wanted to understand what it meant when stars die. And then, oh and then, I came across a speech well known by many: the Pale Blue Dot speech by Carl Sagan, summarising our current loneliness in all of space and time, framed so emotively by a single blue pixel. It was our tiny planet as seen millions of miles away by Voyager 1, as "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

 

Without realising it at first, I became a scientist because I wanted to unravel the universe, to peer into creation and destruction, to see atoms, to think in grand, all-encompassing ways, to realise just how lucky we are, in this ever-expanding space through which we perpetually fall, to be alive to understand a tiny part of it.

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