Six questions to Rob Raiswell

Oct 11, 2017 No Comments by 454 views

Rob Raiswell gained his research degrees from Liverpool University and his first academic position was as a Lecturer in Sedimentary Geochemistry at the University of East Anglia. He moved to the Department of Earth Sciences in Leeds University in 1983 and was there until retirement. The Earth Sciences department became the School of Earth and Environment and he is now an Emeritus Professor in the School. Rob believes he has been very fortunate to have held a variety of visiting positions in some of the best Schools in the USA; Yale, Georgia Tech and UC Riverside and has been elected as a Fellow to the European Association of Geochemistry and the Geochemical Society. He still retains research interests in the geochemistry of glacial systems and the polar iron cycles.
Rob Raiswell co-authored with Don Canfield the first Geochemical Perspectives issue, ‘The Iron Biogeochemical Cycle Past and Present’, and he is regularly involved with creating the EAG cartoons ‘Black & White’.

1. What or who inspired you to become a geochemist?
I became a geochemist mostly through a series of lucky accidents. I had an undistinguished academic start, only acquiring an ordinary degree in chemistry at Liverpool University at the second attempt. Fortunately, I was able to persuade the Geology Department to allow me to do a research MSc (and later a PhD), largely thanks to Mike Atherton who was a metamorphic geochemist in the Department. Mike was farsighted enough to see the potential of low temperature geochemistry and was prepared to take a risk on me as a graduate student.

2. How do you think the field has changed since you were a student?
There has been a huge expansion in low temperature geochemistry whereas igneous and metamorphic geochemistry were dominant when I started research. Now there seems to be an ever-expanding group of talented low temperature geochemists. However, competition has also hugely increased and this has resulted in individuals to become more focused. Consequently, our different science communities are becoming introspective and reluctant to search outside existing paradigms. The corresponding growth in literature also makes it difficult to read widely, which also discourages cross-disciplinary exchanges. The best geologist is the one who has seen the most rocks- and this is also true for geochemistry!

3. Which career choices were the most important?
I was fortunate to start my academic career in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia, where my chemistry degree plus geochemistry research background was in keeping with their emphasis on inter-disciplinarity. UEA also supported my study leave with Bob Berner at Yale, which brought me into contact with a fabulous group of PhD geochemists that included Don Canfield, Tim Lyons and Bernie Boudreau. I had seen Bob Berner’s early papers and thought his 1964 Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta paper on modelling porewater sulphate (v. 28, 1497-1503) was an exciting use of kinetics in sediment diagenesis.

4. What has been your greatest obstacle?
Having to continually remind too many chemists and geochemists about the fundamental role mineralogy in earth surface systems. For example, existing views of the modern iron cycle are hampered by a failure to grasp the significance of mineralogy at the colloidal and nano-level.

5. What inspires or motivates you?
I enjoy working on large-scale geochemical problems. The textbooks by Garrels and Mackenzie on ‘The Evolution of Sedimentary Rocks’ and Garrels, Mackenzie and Hunt on ‘Chemical Cycles and the Global Environment’ were my inspiration for this approach.

6. What qualities do you look for in a potential PhD student?
Enthusiasm, way ahead of an exceptional academic qualifications. Willingness to learn new skills, problem solving ability and persistence. Research is more about perspiration than inspiration!

Interview carried out by the EAG Communications Committee


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