Our Research School of Earth Sciences has a plethora of talent, tucked away in the many corridors, labs and lecture theatres. This kind of environment can foster a well-rounded graduate (or blog follower) if you actually take the time to go to the many seminars, or talk with your colleagues (or read the blog). Seismology has made it into the news, and into this blog on a number of occasions recently. So with these things in mind, I set off upstairs and was lucky enough to talk to one of our very promising and inspirational early career researchers about her current work. I say lucky as I thought I was busy, however I look positively sluggish next to Dr Natalie Balfour.
Natalie is a post-doctoral fellow in seismology with the Earth Physics group. Her position is a little different from most as she is not only a researcher – she works on the source mechanisms and rupture models for earthquakes in Indonesia – she is also coordinating the Australian Seismometers in Schools Network. And so, her position is funded through a combination of a joint linkage project with AusAid/ARC, the Australian Governments Overseas Aid Program and the Australian Research Council, and AuScope, an organisation for a national earth science infrastructure program. So how does one end up being a seismologist leading the coordination of national educational programme?
A passion for natural hazards is a good start and being born in New Zealand put her close to the action during those impressionable years. Originally wanting to be an architect, “Nat Hazard” as she was known to her high school friends, developed an obsession with volcanoes after a family holiday to Hawaii. And although she showed clear talent for architecture, even being a finalist in the New Zealand Young Designer Awards, she decided that her aptitude for maths and physics would provide the smoothest transition through her final years of secondary school. And here the path diverges, off the draftsman’s table and down toward the inner earth.
Natalie’s Honours year took her to Antarctica where she took part in seismic reflection surveys on the McMurdo Iceshelf. Her Masters research looked at the seismicity of the Marlborough region of New Zealand, followed by 18 months at Geosciences Australia studying earthquakes in the Flinders Ranges. But after completing a PhD in Canada between the University of Victoria and the Pacific Geoscience Centre, Natalie has returned to Canberra. Throughout her academic career she has also held admirable enthusiasm for teaching and the transfer of knowledge. Just when you thought her resume couldn’t look better she speaks of not only assisting in writing the curriculum for a new Natural Hazards course during her PhD, but teaching it to 200 students, THEN HANDING IN HER THESIS THREE MONTHS AFTER THE CONCLUSION OF THE COURSE. Yes I am getting slightly hysterical; I’ve gone from sluggish to slothful by comparison.
This week AuScope will officially launch the Australian Seismometers in Schools Network. This ambitious program will allow students around the country to monitor seismological activity in real-time using sophisticated equipment in their own classrooms. The data being collected will be research quality, and there is the hope that this experience might inspire the next generation of geoscientists. Perhaps they should set it up in architecture?
Stay tuned for next week’s post where Natalie talks in detail about Seismometers in Schools. In the mean time check out the Facebook page and wish her team all the best for their launch.