Photos From Our RSES Adventures. Vol.1

As part of our annual Student Conference, this year we held our first ever RSES Photography Competition! Over the coming months we are going to be sharing with you some of these photos, and the stories and science behind them.

This week we start on a high with the winning images from our three categories; Where We Go, Who We Are and What We Study, as well as the overall winner. Enjoy!


Where We Go

Milky Way + Tent – Dr. Jonathan Pownall


The photo was taken in August 2014 during a trip to Ladakh in the Indian Himalaya with Dr. Marnie Forster.  We were undertaking geological mapping and structural analysis of shear zones related to the exhumation of UHP coesite-bearing eclogites.  One night, camping by Tso Kar lake (4500 m), I opened my tent, and the sky was amazingly clear, and the Milky Way looked pretty special.  The lamp was still on in the kitchen tent… so I balanced my camera on a rock and took a long exposure photo.


Who We Are

Bonarelli – Bethany Ellis


This photo was taken during a day trip for the Urbino Summer School in Paleoclimatology in Italy. We were looking for evidence of palaeoenvironmental change in the geological record and the Bonarelli Event (OAE2) is a perfect example. It’s an anoxic extinction event during the Creataceous period. With the oceans being starved of oxygen, the mass extinction of organisms occurred which then formed the organic rich dark layers of shales seen in the photo. This extinction event is used as time marker to form the boundary of the Cenomanian and Turonian ages about ~93Ma.

In the photo, you can see a keen palaeoclimatologist looking at the shales as she tries to piece together the Bonarelli Event stratigraphy.


What We Study

A foraminifera catching and beginning to eat a copepod – Dr. Oscar Branson

BRANSON - Foram eating.jpg

This photograph captures a life-or-death struggle between two ferocious sea-beasts, both are less than a millimetre long.

In the upper left is the foraminifera Orbulina universa. This complex tangle of spines is formed by a single-celled organism, much like an amoeba. The object that looks like a piece of popcorn in the centre of the spines is a porous calcite (calcium carbonate) shell that the foraminifera makes and lives around. Each of the spines protruding from the central shell is a single crystal of calcite, with a thin tendril of the cell running up it. The golden dots along these spines are photosynthetic microbes that live in these extended tendrils, which the cell “farms” for food.

In the lower right is a calanoid copepod, a microscopic crustacean. This complex, multi-cellular beast is a powerful, ambush predator. It has two sets of antennae crammed with tactile and chemical sensors, finely tuned for detecting prey and avoiding predators. The antennae also act as its main form of propulsion, allowing it to zip through the water with surprising speed. Its compact, transparent body has five pairs of legs, a heart and a central nervous system.

The copepod doesn’t stand a chance in this encounter. Besides being a benevolent farmer, Orbulina universa is also a voracious predator, capable of catching and consuming prey many times its size. The foraminifera does not hunt actively, but sticky tendrils out beyond the tips of its spines can act like a microscopic, drifting cobweb – a trap for an unsuspecting visitor like the copepod. This copepod was completely devoured in just a few hours.


The Grand Prize

Loch Ard Gorge, Victoria, Australia – Daniel Cummins


This photo was taken on a very windy, cold and wet, early August 2016 morning – on an impromptu road trip down the Great Ocean Road. After capturing the sunrise over Island Arch, I took up a spot on the cliff over Loch Ard Gorge, set up my tripod and captured a series of long exposure shots. Using a very dark filter, I calmed the rough seas to give a great look at what was under the crashing waves.


Up Next: The People’s Choice Winners!


Why we should March for Science

By Ali and Jess

Five reasons YOU should March for Science TOMORROW:

  1. You believe that government decisions should be guided by facts and evidence. March for Informed Public Policy!
  2. To say no to restrictions being placed on scientists communicating their research, as we are currently seeing in the U.S. Show your support for Open Communication of Knowledge!
  3. For Stable Science Investment, for security in our future jobs!
  4. For a science informed future and a well-informed community. We need kids to learn and love science, they are the future! We need Universal STEM Literacy!
  5. Finally, science is our tool to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems; it is worth marching for!




“Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone — without exception. Science should neither serve special interests nor be rejected based on personal convictions. At its core, science is a tool for seeking answers. It can and should influence policy and guide our long-term decision-making.” –


Meet us tomorrow at 11 am, on the Parliamentary lawns (Federation Mall) 

For more information go to

All images sourced from

Staff vs Student Lawn Bowls

The Research School of Earth Sciences has a long history of pitching the staff against the students in a biannual sporting competition. The staff have dominated in the last few student vs staff sporting competitions, especially cricket, where many of the student team had never bowled a ball or held a bat before. Read more about last year’s cricket match here.

This year strategy overtook tradition and the students challenged the staff to the inaugural student vs staff lawn bowls tournament. There was more participation than ever before with even a few of our youngest coming along to support their parents.

The weather was a sunny 29 degrees as we all made our way down to the RUC. The tension was thick and strategies were forming as the instructor explained the rules of lawn bowls.

Continue reading “Staff vs Student Lawn Bowls”

Tools of the trade: Michael Anenburg

This is the first post in a series where students will have the chance to write about their favourite tech tools to get the job done. This includes software, hardware, mobile apps, etc.

By Michael

I am an experimental petrologist, high temperature geochemist and a general geologist. This is what I use.

Continue reading “Tools of the trade: Michael Anenburg”

PhD by haiku, vol. 4

Compiled by Patrick, Patrick and Louise.

The fourth and potentially final installation of our longest running series.


Buried in a grave
Sea of torrid rock and heat
Spawns a seed so deep
— Jess, experimental petrology


Flash rock plummets scorched earth
Oasis of questions
Frostily protected
— Liane, isotope geochemistry

Continue reading “PhD by haiku, vol. 4”

PhD by haiku, vol. 3

Compiled by Patrick, Patrick and Louise.

A continuation of a continuation of our PhD haiku’s.


Such a mystery zircon
So obsessed with you
Let me know you more
— Bei, isotope geochemistry


The sea-floor goes deep
Water is lost on the way
Looking for witness
— Laure, isotope geochemistry

Continue reading “PhD by haiku, vol. 3”

Virtual Reality is the Future

By Michael

Several of us recently visited the VR exhibition at the National Museum Australia. You sit in their theatre and they give you an Oculus Rift with which you see two short films. Here are two videos to give you an idea of what it is:

Continue reading “Virtual Reality is the Future”

PhD by haiku, vol. 2

Compiled by Patrick, Patrick and Louise.


A continuation from last weeks blog post.

Nitrogen, carbon
Noble gases and so on
Chemistry is key
— Suzette, isotope geochemistry


Two minerals paired
trap ancient information
of how they were made
— Louise, experimental petrology

Continue reading “PhD by haiku, vol. 2”

PhD by haiku, vol. I

Compiled by Patrick, Patrick and Louise

We asked members of the student body to summarise their research in the form of a haiku. Here is what they came up with…


Dear sweet mantle plume
I really hope you exist
So much wasted time
— Tim, geodynamics


Where did people live?
Isotopes in teeth can help,
to stalk ancient folk
— Hannah, isotope geochemistry

Continue reading “PhD by haiku, vol. I”

Glacial shaping of the Tasmanian landscape

By Anna Makushkina

Geologists were fascinated by the enigmatic origin of the lakes in Tasmania throughout the 19th century. The glacial origin of these lakes was first recognized by Officer in 1895. Nowadays everyone accepts the occurrence of several glaciations and its leading role in shaping the Tasmanian topography including the formation of multiple lakes and moraine deposits, which have been dated from Quaternary to Neoproterozoic in age (Hoffman, Li, 2009).

Continue reading “Glacial shaping of the Tasmanian landscape”

RSES Writing Retreat at Kioloa

By Jess

At the end of November a group of PhD students from RSES headed to ANU’s coastal campus in Kioloa for the first RSES writing retreat.

As expected of a ‘writing’ retreat, a lot of us were writing, but there were also people reading, coding, making figures – any work that can be done from a laptop.

The days had timetabled writing sessions, which were structured in 25 minute long pomodoros1 with 5 minute breaks, and longer stops for morning/afternoon tea and lunch. Working in short intensive sessions with regular breaks really helped to keep focused, and with everyone on the retreat keen to get work done, there was a good sense of solidarity.

Concentration during a writing session (Photo: Jennifer Prichard)

Continue reading “RSES Writing Retreat at Kioloa”

Mining history and geology of the West Coast region – Tasmania

By Suzette

Tasmania has a rich history in ore geology and particularly West Tasmania is well-known for its mining industry. The formation of numerous ore bodies in this region were all related to three main geological events: the movement of hot fluids by volcanism in the Cambrian forming the primary minerals, the activity of the Great Lyell Fault exposing and oxidising some of the minerals, and a major orogeny in the Devonian causing the remobilising of the metals into veins and larger crystals. A simplified geological map can be seen below.

Continue reading “Mining history and geology of the West Coast region – Tasmania”

Tasmanian Dolerite

By Perinne Tyler

Approximately 1/3 of Tasmania’s surface geology consists of dolerite; an area of approximately 30 000 km2. Exposures of this rock form many of the hills and mountains of Tasmania, including some of Tasmania’s most well-known landmarks. During the field trip, we unsurprisingly observed a large amount of dolerite, most notably at Mount Wellington, Cradle Mountain, Cataract Gorge and the Tasman Peninsula.

Continue reading “Tasmanian Dolerite”

A moment of terror: public speaking

By Michael

Two weeks ago the Research School of Earth Sciences here at the Australian National University hosted a symposium titled “21st Century Resources“. It was indeed an interesting symposium (or conference? or workshop? or colloquium?) covering a variety of subjects including ore deposits, energy use, climate change, and more.

Being an experimental petrologist specialising in ore deposits myself, I was particularly interested in the third and last day that had the catchy name “Metals for the Millennials“. One of the scheduled talks was about unconventional resources and rare earth elements by Carl Spandler, a professor from James Cook University in Queensland. Unfortunately, he had an unexpected appointment he had to attend, and he asked my supervisor if he could give the talk instead of him (by the way – Carl is also on my supervisory panel). Instead, my supervisor suggested I do it instead. Surprised and exhilarated by the opportunity to speak in front of important people in the symposium, I agreed.

Continue reading “A moment of terror: public speaking”

Geology of Tasmania

Every two years a group of PhD students disappear into the geological wilderness for the RSES Student Field Trip. In 2014, students spent two weeks camping in the Australian outback investigating the regional geology of Central Australia. After many discussions and presentations about exotic and tropical locations, the student cohort settled on a geological road trip around Tasmania. Here is a  quick overview of the geological history of Tasmania and some of the cool sites we managed to visit.

Continue reading “Geology of Tasmania”

Part 2: The Measurements

This week’s blog post is coming from Jennifer Wurtzel, who is currently on a boat analyzing sediment cores from the ocean floor in the Western Pacific Warm Pool!
In my last post, I wrote about how we get our samples for moisture and density (MAD) measurements.  In this post, I’ll discuss the measurements themselves.  We measure three things for MAD: wet mass, dry mass, and dry volume.  From these three measurements, we calculate a number of other properties, including porosity, grain density, porewater, and about 10 more. This may sound straightforward, but measuring mass on a boat is not as simple as on land because the boat is rolling!

Continue reading “Part 2: The Measurements”

Skills to pay the bills

By K. Holland and J. Stephenson

We attended a workshop called PhD to present, and while the title is rather uninformative and ambiguous, we managed to learn a thing or two about writing a CV, about networking, and the limit of how many scones one person can eat in a sitting. Here we will share our highlights.

Continue reading “Skills to pay the bills”

Part 1: Taking Discrete Samples

This week’s blog post is coming from Jennifer Wurtzel, who is currently on a boat analyzing sediment cores from the ocean floor in the Western Pacific Warm Pool!
I am currently serving as a Physical Properties Specialist on Expedition 363 aboard the JOIDES Resolution. As part of the Phys Props team, I help run instruments that scan our sediment cores for physical characteristics (e.g. density) right as they come on board so that the “Stratigraphic Correlators” can identify patterns in the core, which will be used to guide the coring process.

Continue reading “Part 1: Taking Discrete Samples”

Blog at

Up ↑