Kelly-Anne Lawler & Riteshma Devi are PhD Students at RSES and are attending this years online Silica School.


Silicon is the second most abundant element in the earths crust (after oxygen) and is found in rocks, soils and biota. We (Riteshma and Kelly) work with diatoms and radiolarians (microscopic siliceous plankton) in our PhD studies, and wanted to learn more about silica – so we are participating in a four-week online Silica School “Silica: from stardust to the living world”.

The Silica School was launched in June 2018 and was created by Dr. Jill Sutton (former RSES PhD student!) and Professor Paul Tréguer – both currently at the European Institute for Marine Studies, University of Brest.

Siliceous marine plankton under the microscope – Southern Ocean diatoms, radiolarians and silicoflagelletes.

Hosted by the University of Brest over three weeks in November and December 2021, the Silica School syllabus consists of four themes: Silica in the Universe, Silica in the Ocean, Silicifiers in the Living World and Silica in the Future. Under these four themes are ten modules, each taught by an expert, consisting of online lectures, forums and quizzes that us students can work through at our own pace.

The course starts with basic information about geochemistry and geology and covers both the modern and palaeo global biogeochemical silica cycles, silicifiers such as diatoms and siliceous sponges, and the possibility of silicon-based life in the universe.

Phytoliths are microscopic amorphous silica particles found in and/or between the cells of living plant tissue (Bremond et al., 2008; doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2007.08.016).

One week, and one theme, into the course we have already learned so much – and we haven’t even gotten to the themes that we are most excited about – Silica in the Ocean and Silicifiers in the Living World!

Stay tuned for future posts covering the most interesting parts of the course (phytoliths anyone?!).