Posts by Chris Pearce:
Global media attention was drawn to Iceland last week when days of increased seismic activity around Bárðarbunga culminated in the spectacular fissure eruption in the Holuhraun lava field. Just a few hours before this eruption started I and about 80 other geologists were standing next to a similar fissure site that marked the start of the 2010 eruption sequence at Eyjafjallajökull. Our 18 km hike to the volcanic cones of Magni and Móði on the flank of Eyjafjallajökull marked the highlight of a fantastic conference discussing (amongst other things) the intricacies of carbon sequestration. Organised by four EU-funded networks (CarbFix, CO2-React, MetTrans and MINSC) together with the Scandinavian NORDICCS programme, this International Carbon Conference drew together representatives from industry, world renown professors and early career researchers to discuss the current challenges facing the carbon capture and storage industry and what progress has been made over the last few years.
The meeting was given a fantastic kick-off at the futuristic-looking Hellisheiði geothermal power plant. Operated by Reykjavik Energy, this is one of the largest geothermal power stations in the world and is also the site of the CarbFix CO2 injection programme, whose preliminary successes were great to hear about during the conference. Following this ice-breaker and trips around the geothermal sampling sites we had two days of talks and posters that were introduced by the President of Iceland and led by the organisers of the networks. In addition to summarising the progress made in various on-going CCS projects, these talks gave us insights into how nanoscale laboratory measurements can be used to inform us of the processes occurring out in the field, and why isotopic measurements can be a useful tracer for carbon mineralisation programmes.
Of course, as insightful as these presentations were, one of the essential components for any successful conference is the opportunity for networking and making new connections. In this aspect the meeting yet again excelled, with ample time for discussion over the frequent snack stops, during the evening poster session and at the main conference dinner. However, it was the post-meeting field trip where the Icelanders really showed us how to host a meeting, with the breath-taking scenery and fantastic weather (seriously), duly complemented by the outstanding food and local beverages. Even the hike up Eyjafjallajökull took the breath away, as although it was admittedly strenuous in places, the shear scale and beauty of the area surely places the walk right at the top of any geologists ‘must-do’ list. Of course we were somewhat spoiled with our guides, as several of the people leading the hike (including Prof. Sigurður Gíslason) were directly involved in sampling the ash and water samples emitted during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, and could give first hand accounts of the stunning lava waterfalls and glacial meltwater sites throughout the region.
We were even treated to some insider knowledge of continuing scientific studies in the region, as the return walk down the beautiful Hvannárgil valley took us past the end of a lava flow associated with the rapid precipitation of travertine deposits that efficiently scavenged the metal content of the dissolved river waters (Olsson et al., 2014). It wasn’t until later that evening, when we were all recovering over a glass of Brennivín coupled with the traditional camping-hut singing that the Holuhran eruption started. Now if that’s going to be the location for a return meeting in a few years time then I’m signing up now…
I write this as a free man. For the last couple of months I have been bound by the single-mindedness and obsession that drives all academics in the lead up to a submission deadline. Although my latest grant application was by all accounts a bit of a beast, the focus and determination required to see it through were by no means unique; I’ve worked through many similar late-night sessions during previous grant applications, manuscript submissions and of course when writing my thesis. These processes form an integral part of any academic career, so it comes as something of a let down when you discover that the joy of submission is not followed by a euphoric wave of productivity that builds on this latest success, rather a blank stare at the e-mail receipt confirming submission and a somewhat empty feeling as you ask yourself ‘ok, what’s next’?
Our first experience in dealing with the ‘post-submission interlude’ comes when we hand in our PhD thesis. Unlike undergraduate projects, which are generally handed in and celebrated on mass, thesis submission is a personal affair involving the simple exchange of years worth of your life over to someone who won’t even read it and has seen plenty of these things before. At my university we tried to make the occasion a bit more noteworthy by getting all of the department grad students to pile into the submission office and clapping wildly as the folders were exchanged, much to the amusement (and probably annoyance) of the staff working there. However there’s nothing more motivating for getting your own thesis written up then watching one of your peers beat you to it, so the celebrations were usually short lived as people scurried back to their offices, leaving you with an unfamiliar and uneasy sense of having nothing to do.
The fact that our brains refuse to move instantly onto the multitude of other tasks that have in fact been piling up on the desk shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The intensity and focus required over the days/weeks/months of writing a (hopefully) successful paper/grant/thesis demands that we afford ourselves some degree of relaxation before moving onto the next deadline. Whilst this process of recovery varies for each individual, in my experience there are a few key stages that tend happen immediately after submitting… First and foremost is the compelling need to log back in to the website and check that the grant/manuscript status truly has changed from ‘draft’ to ‘submitted’. Second is the walk of pride round the corridors. This is done under the pretence of stretching your legs, but really the extra long route taken is just to let the department know that you’re still alive and have in fact been working whilst acting as a recluse. When you’re back in the office it’s then time for a final flick through the print out (albeit with eyes slightly glazed so that you don’t see any mistakes), before filing it away out of sight. Then it’s onto the much-deserved pint, which lets face it, is about all that anyone can think about at that stage. It’s also a good opportunity to remind everyone else in our lives that we are capable of more than the single-track conversations and status updates that we’ve given them during our brief forays away from the computer over the last few weeks. Finally, after a period of time proportional to both the intensity of your recent efforts and the amount of celebrating done, its time to head back to the office to create a new ‘to do’ list and start preparing the next manuscript…
Of course the hardest thing about any submission is actually making yourself forget about it afterwards. It understandably takes several weeks for the appropriate reviews to be obtained, collated, assessed and a decision reached, and making yourself not think about the paper/proposal during this interval is exceptionally hard when for an equivalently long time it was the only thing you were thinking about. There is some hope for dealing with this however, as although few people realise it, when we handing over our PhD thesis we actually complete a training process that will grant us Jedi-like mind control powers for the rest of our academic career. How else can we explain an ability to find standard data collected over 3 years ago more interesting than watching random clips on YouTube, or spend 8 hours rewriting every sentence in a summary paragraph before starting all over again when we realise that it has morphed back into exactly the same paragraph that we began with? Such discipline against distraction is a hard-earnt talent, which when honed over continued years of academic service, will ultimately enable us to emulate those professors who never appear to leave the coffee lounge but have in reality submitted three grants and a couple of manuscripts in the time it’s taken you to read this blog. By shutting out our desire to continually log-in to the submission portal and check for any status updates we continue to improve our mind control powers, and prepare ourselves for the final hurdle – revisions.
Alas not every submission will make it to this final stage, but if yours does then it’s invariably greeted with mixed feelings. Obviously there’s the elation that you’re still in the running, but as you read the reviewers comments and start writing your response you soon realise that you’re sooo done with this. You forced yourself to write it in the first place, then forced yourself to forget about it. Now in one final twist you’ve got to explain why you wrote it that way all those months ago. Only the knowledge that you’re still in with a chance of success makes it that bit easier to get the final edit resubmitted and start the long wait for the ping of the inbox to tell you whether it’s all been worth it. Here’s hoping…
During my childhood a massive part of the pre-Christmas hype was about who would make it to the coveted number 1 spot in the UK charts. I remember waiting in anticipation to see whether Cliff Richard would strike again, or whether the likes of Mr Blobby or East 17 would beat him to it. I have to confess that my interest in the singles chart has waned a bit since then, both due to the dominance of the X-factor releases and a general improvement in my music tastes (a fact that’s not open to debate, contrary to what my colleagues may say in the lab…). Nonetheless, as debate starts up again over who will be this years #1 (apparently Lilly Allen, the X-Factor winner and AC/DC are all in the running), I got to wondering what would be voted the all-time greatest geochemistry-related song.
A quick trawl through my iTunes library revealed a surprising number of bands, albums and songs that contain scientific references (admittedly not that many deal with geology or geochemistry, but we can’t have everything), and a few other classics were quickly found in YouTube. I’ve listed my top 10 in reverse order (according to their scientific relevance), and I encourage you to add any that I may have overlooked. Geeky I know, but also fun & strangely addictive once you get thinking about it!
No. 10: Nirvana – Lithium
Great band and a great song. The title is about as chemical as it gets though.
No. 9: Coldplay – The Scientist
Another song that’s made it in on its title alone.
No. 8: Kings of Leon – Radioactive
My final slightly more quirky title-based entry.
No. 7: Chemical Brothers – Chemical Beats
No top 10 of science-related tunes would be complete without something by the chemical brothers and this is about as chemical as they come.
No. 6: LemonJelly – Experiment Number Six
Admittedly more of a biological/medical song, but you hope that your students paid as much attention during their experiments.
No. 5: Beastie Boys – The Sounds of Science
In my opinion anyone who raps about Isaac Newton deserves to be in the top 5, and with both a song and album entitled ‘The Sounds of Science’, the Beastie Boys have certainly earnt their place.
No. 4: Muse – The 2nd Law: Unsustainable
The most recent release to make it into my list, and the only song that deals with the laws of thermodynamics. Great music, great video and entropy – what more could you ask for?
No. 3: Jurassic 5 – Lesson 6: The Lecture
‘For many of our students, this is the lesson you’ve been waiting for’ – Any song that starts off with the chemical definition of a compound, mixture and solution quite simply has to make it into the top three.
No. 2: Blackalicous – Chemical Calisthenics
Almost unrivalled for both its scientific content and vocal delivery. Rap may not be everyones cup of tea, but in this case you should definitely make an exception. For those struggling to catch each word you should check out the brilliant lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/blackalicious/chemicalcalisthentics.html
No. 1: Tom Lehrer – The Element Song
The all time classic and a song that even Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) knows off by heart! (see him recite it on the Graham Norton show: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1TfPDlA1xE). Quite simply a must see for you, your students, and anyone else you may know with a vague interest in the periodic table.
Remember remember the fifth of November; gunpowder, treason and plot… At this time of year children and adults throughout the UK dress up warm and brave the winds and rain in order to watch a human effigy burn on the bonfire while thousands of pounds of fireworks explode in the sky above. For those who are unfamiliar with this seemingly bizarre tradition, it stems back to 1605 when Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament using several barrels of gunpowder. While and his fellow conspirators were caught, tried, and executed, several bonfires were lit around London to celebrate the fact that King James I had survived the assassination attempt. During the ensuing years, the annual burning of the ‘guy’ on the bonfire served as a reminder to each generation that treason would not be forgiven or forgotten. Nowadays, however, it is really just a chance to be treated to a spectacular night-time display.
Traditionally fireworks used the same explosive mix of potassium nitrate, charcoal and sulphur as Guy Fawkes had in his gunpowder. The discovery of this ‘black powder’ dates back as far as the 9th Century, when it was first used in China. Unsurprisingly, therefore, China is also attributed with the invention of fireworks, and remains the largest manufacturer and exporter of fireworks in the world.
It is easy to appreciate the skill that goes into producing massive firework spectacles, particularly when they are set to music and combine both aerial and ground-based displays. However our real fascination with fireworks comes in the size, sound and colour of the explosions themselves, all of which are controlled by the chemical composition of the rocket…
The size of the firework essentially depends on the amount of explosive material packed within; the more gunpowder (or equivalent substitute such as Pyrodex) that is used, the greater the force that will explode the rocket and the larger it will appear. Apparently the largest rocket ever produced weighted 13.4 kg and was launched at a Firework Symposium in Portugal in 2010.
The characteristic whistling noise of fireworks is created by resonating gases emitted as the rockets shoot up into the night sky. Salts such as sodium salicylate are added to an oxidising compound (typically potassium perchlorate) to form a propellant fuel that emits gas as intermittent rapid bursts and creates the distinctive screeching noise.
The colour of a firework is the aspect most dependent on chemistry. Stars containing chemical compounds of the desired colour are packed into the rocket and are emitted when the firework bursts. As the stars burn the constituent metal atoms absorb energy, become exited, and emit coloured light as they return to their ground state. Different elements emit light at specific wavelengths thereby generating the different colours. This is exactly the same principle used in Atomic Emission Spectroscopy, albeit on a slightly more dramatic scale.
Of course I’m no expert on the chemical components of fireworks; most of this information has come from the fantastic sources below that are well worth a read. Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to know that many of the elements that I am so familiar with have an aesthetic appeal that brings joy to so many people. If only I could say the same about my strontium isotope data…
My bag’s unpacked, the backlog of emails has been read and sleep deprivation is just about back to normal. I can therefore now look back on what was yet another thoroughly enjoyable and exhausting Goldschmidt conference, and process everything that happened during the week. My main take-home messages include a mental note to self to check whether the caps lock key is on when trying to log into my computer, one inch thick walls that stop two foot from the ceiling do not act as good sound barriers, and (somewhat surprisingly), the world is not flat or made of Styrofoam. Thrown in with these intellectual wonders were a multitude of discoveries of isotopic fractionation where least expected, new constraints on marine element fluxes and novel methods for investigating continental weathering processes. I’ll spare you the details…
Trying to summarise my experience of a conference like Goldschmidt is no easy task. Probably the closest I can get would be to call it packed. This covers just about everything from my flight out of the UK on a bank holiday weekend to Florence itself with so many architectural and cultural wonders crammed into such a small space. I also doubt I’m the only person who got satisfyingly full on the delicious packed lunches before wondering where on Earth I was going to find a space for the box in the overflowing bins. Most of all, packed offers a perfect description of the scientific schedule. With >4000 delegates attending, this was yet again the largest Goldschmidt ever, which resulted in an overflowing auditorium during the lunchtime plenary sessions as well as a huge number of well-attended oral and poster presentations on all 5 days. Whether it’s a reflection of my increasingly broad range of research interests, or simply the fact that more and more people are working on similar scientific issues, I often found that multiple sessions that I wanted to be in were running at the same time, and I would have to choose which keynote talk I attended on the basis of its proximity to the next talk of interest. Of course we can grumble about having had to miss out on such and such a talk because we were in a different session, but in reality this growth is a great reflection of how important geochemistry is becoming for answering a range of scientific issues, and I for one hope that this expansion and development continues far into the future.
Away from the science, the conference provided a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues who are becoming increasingly scattered to all corners of the globe. I also made several new acquaintances, aided no doubt by my introduction to the delights of caffè corretto (thanks go to Mark Rehkamper), and by the fact that many delegates were inescapably drawn to the same bar (with the result that we drank it out of clean glasses on the first night). I also got to take in my fair share of culture, including visiting the breath-taking Medici Chapel and Ponte Vecchio. Unfortunately the usual last minute rush to collect and process all of my data meant I wasn’t as prepared as many and hadn’t pre-booked a ticket for Il Duomo di Firenze or the Uffizi gallery… I’ll just have to save them for a future visit.
Finally, as the dust settles on the conference and attention switches back to making good on our promises of publishing the newly presented data, we should take a moment to acknowledge the immense amount of work put in by the organising committee and EAG officers – one forgets that this was done of their own free will in addition to their regular day job of looking after labs, supervising students, editing journals and (time permitting) doing research. I’m sure that we can look forward to much more of the same next year in Sacremento, as well as discovering whether the vineyards of Italy or California reign supreme!
In my previous post, ‘A geochemistry ditty’, I penned what is possibly the geekiest poem you will ever come across. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when several people got in touch to say how much they appreciated my artistic license, as they could associate with much of what I’ve been through. This got me thinking about the many other experiences that geochemists share, and what other universal truths may bind us together. I’m not talking about problems with machines and or downtime in the lab due to bad airflow, rather the little day-to-day things that we all seem to do without realising.
Take, for example, my fondness for keeping things aligned. I fully accept that I am on the extreme end of things when it comes to keeping things neat and tidy; I rarely leave my desk without straightening up my piles of paper, and a favourite past time of my old office mates was turning my books upside down and misaligning them on the shelf and seeing how long it took me to realise the disturbance (never normally more than 1 day). Although this penchant for neatness is admittedly a bit over the top and can cause both extreme amusement and annoyance at the same time, it does serve me brilliantly in the lab: I keep my working area clear and free from rubbish, I know exactly where my acids and other reagents are kept, and everything’s fully labelled and identifiable should someone else want to run the procedure after I’ve left.
I have since discovered that I’m not alone in displaying such neurotic lab behaviour. I know several colleagues who happily hide away behind teetering piles of unread papers on their desk, but maintain an air of organisation in the lab that astounds even themselves. For example, during a recent visit to the clean labs at Durham University I discovered a colour coded label system used to keep specific acid bottles in certain fume hoods for use with particular isotope systems. Genius. Similarly, I’m sure I’m not the only person to keep all of my pots carefully aligned on the hotplate, and who doesn’t swear by the magic rule of ‘3’ when rinsing beakers in water?
Not all of this behaviour can be attributed to an over developed sense of order. Arranging pots when performing sample digestions is sound practice, as it means you know what sample is where if catastrophe strikes and all the labels become illegible. Likewise, rinsing everything 3 times (or more) helps minimise the risk of crossover contamination between cleaning stages. I guess the real question therefore is what aspects of our lab routine we develop because we’ve been taught to do it in that way, and what parts to we do just because it seems right to ourselves.
Differences in lab etiquette really come to the fore when discussing the lab-cleaning rota. This universal bone of contention is an essential but time consuming aspect of labwork, and is always made all the worse for knowing that it’s not your turn as you did it last time. No matter how many times you put your name down, the feel-good brownie points you got on Friday don’t count for anything when you rock up on a Monday morning only to discover that a heard of elephants must have stormed through the corridor over the weekend leaving their muddy prints all over the entrance mat. Of course, having a spotlessly clean lab provides no guarantee of getting good data, but it does help, and there’s nothing more frustrating then watching other people waltz in and benefit from your mornings hard mopping and scrubbing without a word of acknowledgement or offer to take their turn next time.
Of course it would be wrong to say that all geochemists should strive to be strictly regimented in the lab, as what really matters is the quality of scientific output and everyone should be allowed to achieve that in their own manner (with due consideration to Health & Safety constraints of course!). However, I can’t help wondering how many other researchers out there have a tendency to adhere to the ‘law of straightness’, and kept our working area spotlessly neat and tidy…
As I sit here watching my columns drip,
I thought I’d put together a little writ.
It’s about something that’s not always so plain to see;
the hidden world of isotope geochemistry.
It starts with a rock, water or gas
that contains an element of interest with a particular mass.
You crush, dissolve, evaporate or ash
until it resembles nothing more than a residual splash.
Next, with hands as steady as they can be,
weigh out some spike so that you can perform ID.
(Of course if you are feeling particularly pious,
using a DS will enable you to correct for subsequent mass bias.)
A drop more acid then on we go,
to run the columns that flow slow slow slow!
With resin and frits that just won’t sit right,
they’ll keep you stuck in the lab until late at night.
But finally it’s done and the samples are now ready
to be aspirated and analysed by mass spectrometry.
You tweak and you tune and you wait all day long,
but the blasted machine won’t behave unless you play its favorite song*.
Eventually the standards come down to a value that’s alright,
at just about the time you planned to call it a night.
However the lure of the data means you set the run going,
while keeping everything crossed that the nebulizer stays flowing.
The next day… oh joy, what fun, can you see?
A brand new delta value that’s been generated just by me!
Now back to the lab to clean all that plastic;
a few hundred more runs like this doesn’t sound too drastic…
To end, while I think that it’s absolutely fab,
sitting on my own running columns in the lab.
I do so wish there was someone who wanted a PhD,
that would come and run all these wretched samples for me!
*Not proven, but probably worth a try.
It was the season for carol singing, tree decorating and merry making. This year, however, the highlight of Christmas for me was the fact that I was able to stay in one place and catch my breath after a very hectic few weeks. I realize, of course, that many people see the holiday as an opportunity to recover from the undergraduate’s end of term party, or a rare chance to spend >24hrs away from the clean labs. Nevertheless, it felt like my feet barely touched the ground in the weeks before Christmas, and I probably spent as much time in the air as I did in the office.
The rush started back in November, when, like many other Earth Scientists, I had a mad couple of weeks trying to collect enough data and put together a poster before flying out to the AGU fall meeting. Of course, the benefits of going to San Francisco and presenting your latest results to international colleagues far outweigh a few sleepless nights and an inability to talk about anything other than strontium isotopes (although I doubt that my other half would agree with this). However, the associated ice-breakers, happy-hours and socalising combined with 8am prompt starts (!) provided little time for rest and recuperation during the week… recovery from AGU is consequently normally designated for the week(s) after the conference, when term ends and universities wind down for the holidays. That wasn’t to be the case for me this year.
I had barely got home, dusted off the decorations, and put up the Christmas tree before I was back on a plane and heading out for my second conference in as many weeks. This time I was off to the inaugural MINSC meeting, where I had been invited to present my experiences of being involved in a similar Marie-Curie research-training network. The contrast between this meeting and AGU could not have been more pronounced: The mild Californian climate was swapped for the snow-covered alpine resort of Seefeld in Austria, the jostling hubbub of 22,000 delegates were replaced with face-to-face discussions with 15 early career researchers and their supervisors, and instead of having to queue for 20 minutes to get any beer other then Budweiser, I was able to enjoy a pint of weißbeer in front of a roaring fire. Again, this idealistic meeting didn’t provide quite as much time for rest as I’d hoped for, although in this instance I’m not complaining – there was fresh powder snow and the ski-lift was just opposite the hotel…
A few days later, as I sat on my third flight that month en-route to spend Christmas in Germany with the family, I realized that no matter how exhausting conferences and meetings may be, there is nothing more stimulating for scientific research then having the chance to discussing it with your peers. It’s just a shame that such discussions can’t always take place around the fire with a mince pie and glass of mulled wine!
For the fourth time in my career I am starting life at a new institution. Like most academics I’ve had several jobs since completing my PhD and each post has involved a change in surroundings, colleagues and a slight shift in research focus. Moving is generally accepted to be part and parcel of academic life, and in my experience can be both a bane and a blessing.
In practical terms short-tem postdoc contracts are a nightmare. By the time you’ve been given your own desk and granted access through the university’s firewall, you’re arranging a date for your leaving interview and being wished all the best for your future. This, together with the fact that you don’t get anywhere near the expected amount of project work done because you spent most of the time putting together proposals and job applications for the next post, can make the positions appear to be more hassle then their worth.
However, no matter how stressful this hopping between postdocs is, it is worth it. Academics thrive on collaborations, and the best way of establishing a support network is to go and work with different people. Geochemistry is a relatively small community (though it’s growing quickly!), so by working with different people your name can become known to people you’ve never met, potentially improving your chances for getting the next post. Undoubtedly the greatest boost to my career came when I moved to a country whose language I didn’t speak to work on a topic that was completely new to me… not the easiest of transitions at the time but something that I have benefitted from ever since.
There is also the advantage of getting a change in scene and learning new working practices. The way clean labs and machines are set up vary between institutions, and getting experience of how others do what you do can be both useful and interesting (and, I confess, occasionally frustrating if you discover the answer to an issue that’s been bugging you for months!). Of course this type of knowledge transfer goes both ways, and it’s always encouraging to find that your skills are suddenly in demand and that you can help people who are struggling through the same sorts of issues that you’ve encountered before.
So far I have found that the benefits of starting somewhere new far outweigh whatever difficulties are encountered during the moving process, and it’s easy to see why many academics actually choose to move on (temporarily at least) when on sabbatical. Nonetheless, as I write this surrounded by boxes and bags of unsorted papers that were dumped out of my last filing cabinet, I can’t help but hope that my next move isn’t for quite some time yet…
Taking its name from one of the great pioneers of geochemistry, Victor Moritz Goldschmidt (1888-1947), the Goldschmidt conference has become a key annual event for geochemists and Earth scientists alike. It provides an opportunity for fresh-faced postgrads to meet like-minded people whose eyes don’t glaze over when they discuss their work, and gives senior academics a chance to chat to old colleagues, re-engage with their scientific roots, or perhaps more importantly, allows them to hide at the back of the quietest seminar room and make some headway into the backlog of assignments that needed marking.
Unlike the other conference opportunities available to geochemists, Goldschmidt has the appealing feature that it is held in a different city each year. Once seen as a way of encouraging interaction between different groups of geoscientists, the conference’s continual alteration between North America and Europe (reflecting its joint organisation by the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry respectively) has become part of its attraction, and I’m sure that the associated holiday potential has helped persuade many delegates to attend in the past. The constant mobility of the conference also provides a scale by which you can judge how long a geochemist has been part of the community: They will have been involved for a few years when they start counting the cities/countries they’ve visited by the year that Goldschmidt was there, a bit longer if they can recall the first time that a city held the conference, and quite a lot longer still if they attended the inaugural Goldschmidt conference back in 1988. Of course there are other more subtle indicators for how experienced a Goldschmidt delegate is: First timers walk away from the poster session beer queue holding just one beer, whilst the pro’s have a ticket to the Thermo-party in their pocket before the doors to the ice-breaker have opened.
This year Goldschmidt was held in Montreal, during a week bounded by Quebec’s national holiday on the 24th June and Canada day on 1stJuly. If the revelry associated with these celebrations wasn’t sufficient, the week also saw the start of the International Jazz festival, which featured world-famous acts such as Rufus Wainwright, Seal, Norah Jones, and Emeli Sandé… it was therefore quite surprising to see that so many delegates managed to make it into the conference centre by 8:30 each day (or atleast surprising to see how awake most appeared), even if the coffee queues did get longer as the week progressed…
Of course, we would not have been in Montreal to see any of this had it not been for the science, and in that respect the conference excelled as usual. Goldschmidt increases in size year on year, principally as a result of the exceptionally hard work put in by all of the organising committees, and this year things stepped up a notch again with more then 3000 abstracts submitted. Although the increase in size meant that I was unable to see perhaps all of the talks that I’d have like to, it also ensured that there were plenty of engaging sessions on offer that offered an interesting mix of research. Particular highlights included sessions on ‘Seawater chemistry changes through time (10b)’; ‘Geochemical proxies for past ocean circulation (13b)’, and of course the session I spoke in; ‘Traditional and novel isotopes as tracers of weathering processes (17g)’. The standard of presentation was exceptional by both student and professor alike (the consequence of considerable preparation and ‘pillow practise’) and have given me much to think about until the next meeting.
In addition to hearing about the latest scientific research, one of the primary functions of the conference was to facilitate networking and new collaboration between scientists, and yet again the meeting came up trumps. Whether it was chatting over a glass of wine at the poster session, or joining together to watch the semi-finals of the European Championships, there was an air of unity within the community that seemed to progress as the week went on and tiredness crept in. Combined with several business lunches and many evening meetings, Goldschmidt was as much a success outside of the conference centre as it was inside, and I look forward to continuing where things left off next year in Florence (once I’ve caught up on a bit of sleep that is!).
I’d like to end by saying that Goldschmidt continues to be a great advert for what research conferences can be: a great leveller between academics where everyone is happy to meet, and introduce, everyone else. Concerns about competition for the latest paper or funding are put aside as we focus on the scientific questions that brought us there in the first place, and get excited about potential breakthroughs and future research opportunities. Long may it continue!