Dr. Natasha Smith – ScienceGrrl Geologist

Madison, one of our ex-Lab_13 committee members has become very interested in geology this year and was especially excited about the subject of volcanology and geosciences after a brilliant visit from our guest scientist in residence Dr. David Bailey @geooutreach. Madison wanted to speak to a real geoscientist about their work and how to forge a career in the area and got interview Dr. Natasha Smith, a ScienceGrrl from Oxford!

 Hi! I’m Madison and I’m a year six pupil. I’m 10 years old and I’ve been interested in geology for a while and I am inspired by UK geoscience. Would you mind if I interviewed you on this?


Dear Madison,

Thank you for your questions, scientists like it when school children take an interest in what we do! I will try to answer them as best as I can.


  1. Have you been interested in volcanology/geoscience all your life?

unnamed (2)Yes, I think so! I grew up in Cornwall, a place that has some really beautiful landscapes and very cool rocks. I used to play on the beaches with my big brother, and I wanted to know how the cliffs and caves were formed, why some of the rocks were folded into shapes, and why the tin mines were there. Behind my house, there was a castle on a hill built into the rocks- we loved playing up there!

  1. How do you become a volcanology/geoscientist?

If you want to study rocks and volcanoes, it’s great to be interested in science in general- geography, chemistry, maths and physics are all really useful to help you become a geologist. Chemistry is particularly good for understanding volcanoes, and what magma is made from. If you take science subjects right through to A Level, you can apply to do a Geology or Earth Science degree at University.

But more important than science is Passion! You have to love being outside, and clambering around on rocks, and keeping your eyes open for anything interesting you may see in the natural environment around you.

  1. Do you prefer working outside or inside?

Easy- Outside! I love working out in the field (we call it ‘in the field’ even though there is hardly ever grass and normally lots of rocks!). But you don’t have to work outside to be a volcanologist- some people work outside, on ‘active’ volcanoes (like in Indonesia!) or on old volcanoes (like in Scotland!) but lots of volcanologists work in laboratories doing experiments, or in offices doing research. You can choose the right kind of job for you.

  1. Is it hard to be a girl volcanologist?

It isn’t hard, as long as you work hard and do your best. Sometimes boys can climb higher and carry more rock samples than I can- but I can think just as fast as boys, and can work just as hard as them! There are lots of girls in volcanology nowadays, and by the time you reach uni it will be even better!

  1. What’s the most exciting thing you have done in your job?

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The most exciting thing I have done in my job is living on a volcanic island! I have worked on Tenerife, which is a very cool volcanic island, and also Santorini in Greece, which is one of the most beautiful volcanoes on Earth- layers of lava and ash, black, red and white! The volcano has erupted many times, and each layer records a different eruption through the earth’s history- the volcano as been active for around 2 million years!

  1. How do rocks produce fuel?

That’s a very good question. There are many different rocks. Some rocks are erupted by volcanoes. These can’t create fuel. But some rocks are made up from tiny creatures and plants that lived on the planet millions of years ago. When the plants and animals died, they were buried in sediment (a bit like if you bury your feet in sand at the beach). After a very long time, more and more layers are buried, and they become hard like a rock. As the rock gets buried, it slowly heats up. (imagine baking something very slowly at a very low heat in your oven). After a very long time, the chemicals within the plants and animals start to change, and release oil and gas! The oil and gas are important fuels that are then trapped inside the rock. As geologists, we can learn about the plants, learn about the animals, and learn about the sediment and how long it all took- we can then help engineers understand where to find energy sources to help us power the planet.

  1. How do you retrieve the fuel from the rocks?

To get the fuel out, we need to carefully understand the environment and the geology of an area. We can use something called ‘seismic’ to look inside the earth and tell us what it’s like down there (a bit like x-raying the ground beneath your feet). This can help us decide where to drill a well, or dig a quarry. We have to be very careful to look after the environment and the people who live near the well or the quarry- but the energy created helps everyone by giving them electricity and petrol to get to the shops!

Thank you Dr. Natasha for being a fab interviewee!

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