What got you interested in geology and, eventually, mineralization?
I was always interested in geology. I remember collecting dinosaur magazines when I was younger. Every week you got a plastic bone of a T. Rex on the front cover that you had to build. I wasn’t able to take geology as a subject at school, but we did have the option to study geography. I really liked the volcanology aspect, so throughout my undergraduate degree I was keen on doing a PhD in that subject. After I completed a master’s degree in geochemistry most of the PhDs I applied for still had a volcanic theme, including the one I did at Southampton which was also related to mineralisation. So I drifted into mineralisation - I didn’t really plan it.
You were recently awarded both the Royal Irish Academy Charlemont grant and a grant from the Geological Survey of Ireland. Do you have any advice for early stage career researchers who may be thinking of applying for similar grants?
I would advise them to apply and apply often. I think people get intimidated about applying and disheartened when they fail. The more you write, the better at it you get. Just brush off the failures. I applied for a few during my PhD, but looking back should have gone for more. It might be a small travel grant for a conference, for example. Start with the smaller ones. Once you get one, it encourages you to go after larger grants. And keep an eye out for them! The other thing I would advise if you’re a PhD student: join all the geology groups. They are much cheaper as a student and you will receive the newsletters, which will also tell you about specific grants (if you aren’t a member, you often can’t apply).
What are you working on at the moment?
My iCRAG project at the moment is one I started in June 2017, funded by the Geological Survey Ireland: it’s about lead-isotope mapping in Ireland. We’re looking at occurrences of lead minerals, such as galena, across Ireland, and we’re hoping to map out basement geology. Most of the pre-Silurian geology in the southern half of Ireland is concealed and we only have some coastal exposures. We’re trying to see if we can map out the different tectonic plates that came together as Ireland formed. The basic concept is that the lead in mineral deposits is sourced from the basement and the isotopic signature of the source region is recorded in the galena.
The other research I’m working on involves clumped isotopes. This technique allows us to determine the temperatures in which carbonates precipitate. People apply it to bones, teeth, stalagmites and stalactites as part of low-temperature climate change research. We’re using it to get the temperatures that the carbonates which host the mineral deposits formed at - we’re applying the technique at higher temperatures.
Where was a recent place you did fieldwork?
Northern Ireland. My PhD was about an ophiolite and volcanic arc rocks in County Tyrone. Since I finished my PhD, every year my former supervisor and I revisit the old quarries to see the new exposures and to look for new outcrops. With colleagues from the University of Leeds we are now investigating the structural evolution of the area and how it relates to gold in the region. I always enjoy going there because I know the area well, yet there is always something new to discover. We also have some new U-Pb ages which thankfully fit my PhD model.
Any idea where you will be in 10 years?
I’d like to see myself in academia as Prof. Hollis! I always liked academia. I worked for a year in the mining industry, which was fun but I prefer the freedom to work on research areas that interest me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m into comic books, sci-fi and have recently taken up archery. I also like gardening and growing my own fruit and vegetables: last year I grew tomatoes, peas and strawberries; and at the moment I am growing herbs, gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries.