Name:  Kate Boston

Position:  PhD student

Research School of Earth Sciences

The Australian National University

Area of study:  Geochronology

Project:  Allanite and monazite geochronology of the Lepontine Alps, Switzerland

What does that mean?

Geochronology is concerned with the timing of certain geologic events, as well as the rate of processes involved.

My project is focussed on the Lepontine Alps in southern Switzerland.  The European Alpine chain was formed from the collision of Africa and Europe (plus any islands, some ocean floor and continental ribbons that got in the way).  Towards the end of the mountain building phase (orogenesis) there was a heating event in the Lepontine Alps.  The new temperature and pressure conditions at that time caused the rocks to recrystallise (what geologists call metamorphism).

This area has been studied for over a century, but some pretty major questions remain:  when and for how long did the rocks undergo metamorphism?  How long did it last?  Did it happen at the same time across all of the Lepontine Alps?  Was it the result of one heating event, or were there multiple heat pulses?  Where did the heat come from?

The minerals allanite and monazite are ‘datable minerals’ – minerals that incorporate uranium and thorium when they crystallise.  Because uranium and thorium decay to lead (and we know the rate at which the decay happens), we can find the age of the minerals from uranium-lead and thorium-lead ratios.

How did I get here?

When I started my undergrad degree at the ANU I thought I wanted to do medicine or vet science.  Then I discovered that I hate biology.   I had to rethink my degree a little.  I heard that the field trips for geology courses were awesome and that I should give it a go.  So I did.  I got hooked.

After my honours year my supervisor proposed a PhD project involving field work in Switzerland.  I couldn’t say no.  Hiking in the Alps and calling it “work” – priceless.

Where will I go?

Who knows?!  Before a few years ago I never thought I’d be remotely interested in geology.  I never thought I’d end up doing a PhD either.  I honestly don’t know if I’ll stay in academia or go into industry.  Or do something entirely different.  Like lion taming