UCL Earth Sciences


Departmental Newsletter Spring 2023

Spotlights: Technical Staff Showcase; Spotlight on Amy Perrio; Welcome new staff; UCL-Yale doctoral exchange; Alumni profile of Dr William Davis; Expedition to remote island's lava lake; What can deep-sea devices hear; Mindful Scholar event; John Bowles' retirement, Award for excellence in Research in Mathematical Petrology; The Climate Action Uni became finalist for UK Green Business Awards
Earth Sciences Fieldwork

Update from Prof Paul Upchurch, Head of Department

Several highlights to report, including a successful undergraduate exam board in which the External Examiners praised the warm, welcoming atmosphere in the department & the high quality of the educational experience.  Student recruitment is extremely healthy; we continue to maintain our track record of world leading research.

Laboratory image

UCL Technical Staff Showcase 2023.

This showcase event will demonstrate the breadth and depth of technical contribution that our technical staff make to UCL research, teaching, and innovation. Our technical staff were showcasing: Microscopy in Earth Sciences, Engineering used to simulate geological conditions and Geochemistry used to replicate natural weathering processes.

Student Experience: Spotlight on Amy Perrio

Amy Perrio

I find it fascinating to to try and piece together the stories of mineral formation and how these can relate to potential biosignatures.

Meet the Staff: Welcome new academic staff

New staff members Byron, Frances and Brian

A warm welcome to our newest academic staff: Byron, Frances and Thomas. We are delighted to have you join our department!

PhD News: UCL-Yale doctoral exchange 

Adam Smith fieldwork

It was an excellent opportunity to learn a lot about my study area, and see how other researchers operate at a different institution. 

Alumni Profile: Dr William Davis, class of 2017

Dr William Davis ES Alumni
Coming in as a student with a passion for mathematics and geology, I found that the course material & guidance at UCL enabled me to discover my intellectual niche which I’m still pursuing today.

Research: Expedition to remote island’s lava lake

Lava lake volcano
“The Mount Michael on a sub-Antarctic island hosts a persistent thermal anomaly at its summit. A hotspot much hotter than the surrounding area.

Research: What can deep-sea devices "hear"?

UPFLOW - seismometer
 The seismometers placed at the bottom of the ocean, record the Earth’s ground motions on the sea floor and thus capture the Earth’s “pulse”.

Equality: Mindful Scholar event

Mindful scholar event

This thought-provoking gathering brought together a diverse group of individuals from various backgrounds, including students, professors, and industrial professionals. 

Events: John Bowles' retirement 

John Bowles

We mark the end of an era as we say goodbye to John Bowles who is leaving us after working at UCL for 38 years to enjoy a well-deserved early retirement.

Awards: Prof Pieter Vermeesch & Climate Action Unit

award icon

Pieter Vermeesch was recognised for Excellence in Research in Mathematical Petrology. The Climate Action Unit has become a finalist for UK Green Business Awards.


Update from Prof Paul Upchurch, Head of Department.

This will be my last contribution to the Departmental Newsletter, at least in my capacity as Head of Department. I will be stepping down from this role at the end of August and handing over to Professor Lidunka Vocadlo. Looking back on the past five years, I can see that the Department has gone through yet another phase of transformation.

Under the previous HOD, Lars Stixrude, we were focused on the refurbishment of the Kathleen Lonsdale Building and ultimately bringing all staff and students together in one place. We all still appreciate these facilities and enjoy our state-of-the-art teaching and research labs, social hub spaces and so on. But the transformation we have undergone during the past five years has been more focused on people than facilities  (although we have managed to spend at least £2 million on the latter in that time). During my tenure as HOD, we have seen a major turnover of academic staff driven largely by retirements, resulting in 50% of our current academic staff having been appointed since 2018. While we appreciate the dedication and long service of our retiring staff (many of whom I am glad to say are staying with us in the form of emeritus professors), it is also interesting and exciting to bring new people into the organisation and develop fresh ways of thinking. Part of our strategy has been to focus on the issues that are of greatest importance to our students and to society more widely, and therefore we have invested strongly in areas such as environmental geosciences, hazards, climate, and sustainable earth resources, during these hiring rounds. Another longer term trend, which I have been very pleased to oversee and encourage, is the growing importance of equity, diversity and inclusion. We have set up a number of staff and student networks in the Department, and receive funding to help us decolonise our curriculum an provide kits of field equipment in order to remove barriers experience by students from socio-economically under privileged backgrounds. And talking of the latter, we have also increased the number of “access students, we take, and preliminary data suggest that these students are doing as well academically as any others.

More recently (i.e., since the last Newsletter) there have been a number of further developments and success stories. We have recently hired a new Lecturer (Teaching) in Environmental Geoscience is, and we are currently searching for another Lecturer (Teaching) who will, among other tasks, be taking over the undergraduate tutor role in order to provide students with even more support. In the past six months, several staff have achieved success with major grant or fellowship applications, including Byron Adams, Nicolas Brantut, Paul Bown, David Dobson, Philip Mannion, Emma Nicholson, and Rosemary Willatt. Emma Nicolson has also run a new fieldtrip to the Azores for our MSc in Geohazards – this went extremely well and provides a fantastic opportunity to bring together theoretical, practical, and field, knowledge to create a holistic overview of the relevant topics. Finally, we have recently completed a review of our technician support, and I’m pleased to report that we will be hiring in key areas soon, which again will enhance both the research and teaching of the Department and hopefully ease some workload issues.

To me, if feels like the Department is thriving and that I can hand it over to Lidunka with the Department well-positioned for the future. I wish Lidunka all the best while she is Head of Department, and I’m looking forward to seeing what innovations and improvements she will bring. I’d like to end by thanking all those people in the Department who have helped support me during my time as HOD. It is well known that the HOD role has a very heavy workload, a great deal of responsibility, and comes with a fair few difficult conversations and stressful moments. Without the support of my technical, professional services, and academic colleagues, the role would have proved impossible, especially during the additional problems created by Covid. Since my decision to step down, I have received many messages of support and thanks from staff and students, and I would like to let everybody know that these are greatly appreciated.

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