On Circulation is back in circulation

1 September 2020

Welcome to the revival of the On Circulation blog! This blog is run by PhD candidates currently undertaking research at The Australian National University Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES). We have a team that includes an experimental petrologist, a rock physicist and mathematical geophysicist, two climatologists (modern and palaeo) and two geodesists, as well as a whole school of earth science researchers.

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Featured post

RSES Recommends: Books, Part 2

Many people will spend their August under ‘stay at home’ orders due to Covid-19, and many more are choosing to spend more time at home than they usually would, just as a precaution. Time at home, especially in the cold winter weather, is often spent reading books – so for those of you looking for new reading material, here are some new book recommendations!

The following books were brought to my attention by RSES colleagues after our first On Circulation book recommendation post.

By Kelly-Anne Lawler.

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Bullet journalling your PhD

Tharika Liyanage (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the Paleobiogeochemistry group at RSES. She’s super curious about the early evolution of life and searches for fossilised molecules in ancient sediments to learn about microbial life in the distant past. In her spare time, you’ll find her at Questacon working as a science communicator or in her kitchen trying to figure out the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. You can find her on Twitter @thaliyanage.

During my PhD, I had to write regular reports to keep track of project progress. I struggled to write the first couple because when I flicked back through my lab book and calendar, I felt like I had done so little each day and achieved nothing over several months! In reality, I had been doing lots of little incremental things but I didn’t have a record of it. So that’s when I came across the Bullet Journal method.

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Time to Get #SoMe help navigating online academic life?

In pre-Covid times, building an online academic presence was becoming more important by the year. Blogging and social media are great (and usually free) ways to gain exposure for yourself, your research output, or hopefully both. Sharing your research online has become even more important now that travelling domestically and internationally for conferences, lab visits and field work (all great networking opportunities) is difficult, if not impossible.

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From Soup to Slime – Evolution and Revolution

Caleb Bishop is a PhD candidate in the Biogeochemistry group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include Precambrian biomarkers, isotope geochemistry and Neoproterozoic paleoenvironments.

Read Part 1 of Caleb’s contribution to On Circulation – Reminiscences of a soupy beginning.

When you look into your family photo album, alright Grandpa might look a little pudgy around the corners, but he can hardly be mistaken for an oversized amoeba. However, science tells us that is precisely what he is (several orders, and perhaps several membranes, removed)! So why the change? What caused the primordial soup to give up its bathtub? And how come my dear Grandma is currently serving me a slice of chocolate cake, and not an oversized Prochlorococcus? Early eukaryotes had quite a job reclaiming the oceans from the well-established bacterial world, but with a bit of help from a freak climatic catastrophe they instated a new world order entirely. This is the story of their glory; a victory that augmented our history, and made you a possibility.

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Reminiscences of a soupy beginning

Caleb Bishop is a PhD candidate in the Biogeochemistry group at the Research School of Earth Sciences. His research interests include Precambrian biomarkers, isotope geochemistry and Neoproterozoic paleoenvironments.

Eukaryotic organisms have a deep evolutionary history, expressed, in part, through morphological and molecular fossils. Early eukaryotes faced a dichotomy of obstacles that challenged their survival, however with a bit of help from a freak climatic catastrophe, they overcame these obstacles to present us with the world we recognise today full of incredible biodiversity in flora and fauna. We owe much to those tenacious early few microbes. This is a light-hearted overview of what we know of their opening chapters so far, the very beginnings of complex life.

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Science on film: The Wave

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD candidate studying Southern Ocean palaeoclimate. So far, her only experience of Norway has been a bank holiday long weekend spent in Oslo.

The Wave is a Norwegian disaster film, set in the beautiful Geiranger Fjord. The hero of the day is Kristian the geologist – need I say more on an Earth Science blog!

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Getting the most out of a virtual-conference

Shubham Agrawal is a PhD candidate in the Seismology & Mathematical Geophysics group. You can read more about Shubham’s research on his personal website.

2020 taught us numerous new things and exposed us to uncharted waters. No one could have guessed the 600% increase in the zoom stock prices, or the meteoric rise in sourdough baking, or that it is in fact possible to communicate science without leaving a significant carbon footprint.

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An Amazing Race to begin a PhD at the outbreak of the Pandemic

Stacey Servito Martin is a second year PhD student in the Seismology and Mathematical Geophysics group at RSES. You can find Stacey on LinkedIn.

It’s unusually windy today”, my supervisor remarked as a choppy Lake Burley Griffin came into view from between the trees on Parkes Way. He was driving me from the airport on 20th March 2020 to my quarantine facilities at Ursula Hall in Acton. The gusty conditions also meant that the plane I was on moments before, a nearly empty Qantas QF812, made a turbulent descent into Canberra. I remember thinking, “You made it this far, this tin can better not go down now…..”. Every uneasy flyer will commiserate. But that afternoon the relief I felt far exceeded anything I normally associated with the thump of the landing gear on the tarmac. This time around the relief came from a sense of knowing that my life was going to be okay. I had made it into Australia (for the first time ever) with just hours to spare.

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Antarctic mega icebergs

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD student at the Research School of Earth Science studying Southern Ocean palaeoclimate.

From the large iceberg that made the news as it neared South Georgia island, to the RV Polarstern sailing between iceberg A-74 and the Brunt Ice Shelf, large icebergs calved from the Antarctic ice shelf are of great interest to scientists and non-scientists alike.

The U.S. National Ice Center (USNIC) monitors snow and ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes regions. Since 1978 it has been  naming, tracking, and documenting large Antarctic icebergs. Icebergs with an area greater than 20 square nautical miles, or that are at least 10 nautical miles on their longest axis, are of interest to the USNIC and are named according to their origin and the order in which they calved from the ice shelf.

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QEMSCAN – helpful tool to find out more information about rocks

Monika Misztela is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES. She is currently involved in a project about the Platinum Group Element geochemistry and fertility of magma systems.

Quantitative Evaluation of Minerals by Scanning Electron Microscopy (QEMSCAN) is a relatively new method that analyses rock minerals. It combines energy dispersive X-Ray spectroscopy (EDX) and back-scattered electron brightness (BSE) to capture analysed samples’ geochemistry at each point at the predefined grid scan pattern. It provides many interesting pieces of information, such as:

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RSES recommends Science podcasts


Normally, I rarely listen to podcasts.  It would only be based on recommendations when I want to hear opinions on specific topics or if I need entertainment on solo road trips. My podcasts knowledge is not broad, but here I am writing a post on my podcast recommendations…

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RSES Recommends: Books, Part 1

Looking for something to read that isn’t directly related to your own scientific work? Try some of the books recommended by RSES PhD students and complied by Kelly-Anne Lawler.

Two books that should be on everyone’s reading list (these books are definitely not just for scientists!) are Bad Science by Ben Goldacre, and Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. Bad Science deals with the, well, bad science, that occurs in industries as varied as pharmaceuticals (he has written an entire book on this topic – Bad Pharma), the beauty industry, education and homeopathy. According to Ben Goldacre himself it is a ‘book about the misuse of science by quacks, journalists, and big pharmaceutical companies’.

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Iceland – geological wonderland

Monika Misztela is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES. She is currently involved in a project about the Platinum Group Element geochemistry and fertility of magma systems.

Iceland is a small country in the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of about 365 000 people and over twice as many sheep. The country of fire and ice, trolls, whales, puffins, wild horses, mushrooms, northern lights, waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, lava flows, geysers and plate tectonics. For me, Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. I had a chance to spend there three weeks, soon after the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption in 2010. As an undergrad student, this trip taught me more in 3 weeks than general geology course in the whole year. Having such a big impact on me, I would like to share some of the trip’s highlights with you.

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Science on television: The Head

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD candidate in the palaeoenvironments group at RSES. She loves everything Southern Ocean and Antarctic, and enjoys a good murder mystery novel…

If you like Antarctica, murder mysteries, and bingeable television shows then The Head might be right up your alley!

The series begins when the summer crew of a Danish Antarctic base arrive to find a quiet, empty station. The ten overwinterers (the team of people who conduct research and take care of the base during the dark Austral winter) have disappeared. Communications are down, vehicles are missing, and, at first, there is no sign of life. A series of flashbacks reveal the events in the weeks leading up to the summer crew’s arrival… but with conflicting accounts of what happened, who are we to believe?

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On the search for 21st century resources: critical metals in the Proterozoic Mount Isa Inlier

Ross Chandler is a PhD student in the Experimental Petrology and Geochemistry Group at RSES. His research is focussed on critical metal deposits where he studies the formation of, and exploration for peralkaline volcanic- and IOCG-hosted rare earth element deposits.

Critical metals are defined as metals considered vital to the economic well-being of the world’s major and emerging economies. These metals are becoming increasingly important in the development of modern and green technologies in which they play a vital role due to their unique physical and chemical properties. The rare earth elements (lanthanides + Sc + Y) are an example of a critical metal, being ubiquitous with the technologies of modern life. In particular, the rare-earth elements neodymium, dysprosium and praseodymium play a crucial role in the transition to a low carbon future. Their addition to magnets increases magnetic efficiency and maximum operating temperatures and as such they are indispensable to renewable power generation in wind turbines, and in motors for zero-emission electric vehicles. An interesting aspect of a large number of critical metals is that they have only recently become useful to modern day technology and were previously unsought, or even discarded when they occurred alongside traditional commodities. REE are an example of this, often ending up in the tailings or waste stockpiles of mines that were targeting other commodities.

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Tidy Tuesday for earth scientists: A treasure trove of datasets to practice coding and data visualisation

Kelly-Anne Lawler is a PhD candidate in the Palaeoenvironments group and is one of the few people at RSES who prefers R to Python (if there are more of you out there, get in touch)!

What is Tidy Tuesday?

Each Tuesday, the R4DS Online Learning Community posts a raw dataset on their Github site, along with an article or chart relating to the data. The intention is that we (scientists, coding enthusiasts, data visualisation fans) can use the datasets to explore, wrangle, and create data visualisations using R software, or any other coding language that we like! So even if you prefer to use something like Python or Matlab, these datasets are an interesting way to practise your data wrangling and visualisation skills, especially if you don’t have any data of your own to work with yet.

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Adventure in the Andes

Yamila Cajal is a PhD candidate in the Experimental Petrology group at RSES, ANU. Her current research investigates the geochemistry of the Platinum Group Elements (PGE) applied to the prediction of copper-gold fertility in mountain belts.

About a year ago, I was sitting in my desk in Canberra, trying to plan a fieldwork to the Andes of Central Chile. The area I wanted to visit is located in the eastern part of the Maule Region, which is only suitable for performing fieldwork during summer due to the alpine climate and high altitudes. Planning this fieldtrip was quite challenging because the area of study is located in a not very accessible zone (actually, in the middle of nowhere). 

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#MinCup: The Olympics of Minerals

Bozana Pasic is a PhD candidate in Experimental Petrology at RSES. Her research investigates the behaviour of silica in low and high temperature environments, and how to better understand the processes affecting its existence… well, everywhere.

The roar of a stadium when your favourite athlete places first on that podium is something that needs to be experienced, or so they say, cannot be replicated. The heart-stopping last few seconds of the event until the winner is declared, the adrenaline rush that emanates once that line is crossed or that point scored is something we can all relate to in one form or another, but that’s if you like sport.

What if you don’t like sport? What if you like something else? What if that something else is minerals, and what if you like minerals competing against one another? Well…

The Mineral Cup is for you!

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