UCL Earth Sciences


Meet the Staff: Dr Susan Little

10 December 2020

I am an isotope geochemist, interested in developing novel tracers of carbon cycling in the past and present ocean.

Dr Susan Little profile image

Meet Dr Susan Little, Lecturer and NERC Research Fellow in Isotope Geochemistry

It’s startling to think that I applied for my Lectureship at UCL back in 2018. Remember, when all we talked about was Brexit? My interview was just before (literally – I went from UCL straight to the airport!) an expedition in the fjords of Greenland. I vividly remember receiving the offer when we docked back in port. Sailing in the fjords around Nuuk was my first field campaign to collect my own samples, and an amazing one! As an isotope geochemist, most of my research is conducted in a clean lab (where the air is filtered to remove all the tiny particles) and on an expensive mass spectrometer. Definitely less picturesque…

Dr Susan Little profile image in the lab
I work on trace metal micronutrients, like zinc and copper, which all organisms need to carry out all kinds of processes, like respiration (breaking down sugars for energy). In Greenland, the team (led by Dr Kate Hendry, Uni. Bristol) and I are investigating the quantity and form of the micronutrients that are supplied to the polar oceans from melting ice. This type of research is critical to understand how the productivity of the polar oceans will change in the future warming world. Since Greenland, ‘active’ research for me has been somewhat in limbo. Waiting to move, for a finished laboratory, and for the pandemic… Fortunately, like many lab-based scientists, I had a backlog of data just waiting for publication. So, in this regard at least, enforced absence from the lab has been productive!
Indeed, though generating new isotopic data has taken a back seat, the pace of academic life certainly hasn’t. If anything, the period since March this year seems to have been my busiest yet. I sympathise with those who have more responsibilities at home; adjusting to the virtual world has certainly been an adventure.

While replacing my regular Sunday football match with HIIT workouts, switching Sainsbury’s for a vegetable patch, and moving in with my partner during the first full-lockdown (!), my day-to-day has filled up with writing, reviewing, editing and examining, meetings and conferences, tutoring and teaching. The new normal, WFH (Working From Home: surely know this already?), has suited me pretty well, thankfully.

Limbo is not so stationary after all, then! And the future for isotope geochemistry at UCL looks bright. Our shiny new clean lab is finished, just waiting to be filled with acids, beakers, and students (I won’t mix the three, don’t worry). Please do contact me if you’re interested in any of our oceans, trace metals, isotopes, oxygen, nutrients and/or contaminants, and we can do some great science together.

Finally, 2020 has been a year full of challenges. I wish you all a restful holiday period and look forward to the new year!

Susan Little, @suselittle, https://sazlittle.wixsite.com/isotopes