Matthew Pankhurst

Thanks for everyone who voted to keep me in :)

Favourite Thing: Traveling to amazing, crazy places and the buzz of discovering new things.



1997-2002 Newhaven Secondary College (Victoria, Australia), 2003-2006 Monash University (Victoria, Australia), 2009-2012 Macquarie University (N.S.W. Australia)


PhD, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, First Class Honours degree

Work History:

Exploration Geologist (Rio Tinto), Exploration Geologist (freelance), Post-doctoral Research Fellow

Current Job:



The University of Leeds, UK

Me and my work

I’m 28 and have just finished my PhD, right now I study what goes on inside and underneath volcanoes – which is awesome!

I grew up in southeastern Australia, and went to a university there to study both Science and Arts. Afterwards I did a years worth of new research which gave me a taste of doing brand new science. I then took a job as an exploration geologist (the people that find new places to mine minerals and metals) for a couple of years, which involved traveling all over Australia to places no-one ever goes. Sometimes we used helicopters and very small planes, and sometimes four wheel drives.

I then started my PhD in Sydney, Australia and lived near the beach! I was researching how volcanoes can tell us about how mountain belts work, and why they stop growing (one day even the Himalaya will stop).

While in Sydney I got married to another scientist and we had a baby who we love to take hiking with us!

Now my family and I have moved to the UK where I do research at the University of Leeds. The project I’m working on is using crystals that grow inside the volcano as mini stop-watches. This information is very important if we want to understand how fast things happen inside the volcano, and hopefully will help us know when eruptions will happen in the future.

My Typical Day

When I am working at University a typical day is a mixture of doing experiments, reading, writing and tea breaks! When I’m in the field there is no typical day!

It’s tricky to write about a typical day, because it really does depend on where I am.

When I am doing work at University, I take the train in to Leeds, walk through the city to my office (which I share with another two scientists) and read emails that have arrived overnight. I work with people in Australia and the Americas so I need to catch up on what they have done while I was sleeping! I normally spend time setting up experiments with rocks and minerals I have gathered. Then I run those experiments in special instruments that measure things like what chemistry the mineral has, which tells me all sorts of things about how the mineral was formed and when.

I also spend time writing about science that I want to do in the future (in a couple of years time) because every scientist needs to have a job arranged before they finish the job they are doing! These pieces of work are called proposals, and are sent to different groups of people and other scientists who decide if the idea is good enough to give money to make it happen.

When I am doing work in the great outdoors normally I wake up either in a motel or a tent (depending on where the rocks are)! I get out to the area I need to study either by four wheel drive or sometimes simply hiking. I use a gps and maps to make sure I know where I am! I take notes and make sketches of what I see, and take small samples using a hammer. These are labelled with where they came from and why the sample was taken. Often I have packed lunch to eat sitting on a rock and admiring the view. Sometimes if the weather is awful the view isn’t great, but its really nice to be outside on days like that as long as you have good waterproof gear and stay warm and dry!

Sometimes I go to conferences which are gatherings of scientists that are studying similar things.

What I'd do with the money

Put it towards a good quality video camera set-up for use outdoors, and post the videos of how geology actually happens online.

Geology is a very hands-on science, you really need to get out and see the world to know whats its all about. I think it’d be great to record cool places I visit and the work I do. These videos would be posted online, probably on a youtube channel, so everyone could see what a geologist does. In the videos I will explain how the rocks were formed, how the landscape was formed, and how the science of geology works, while I’m in amongst it all! I would also explain how to be as safe as possible, and about the equipment we use. This way people could come out into the great outdoors through the internet! Perhaps it would be the first step for future geologists!

The video equipment would need to be small and compact, and able to be used by one person. It would need a rugged case for scrabbling over rocks and have a sturdy tripod and probably an external microphone. A remote control would also help!

The bonus would be using the same video equipment in the laboratory and office at work, to show how the office side of science works. It’s less dramatic, but just as important!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, active, happy

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Foo Fighters

What's your favourite food?

Chille con carne

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Driving a Land Rover through the Australian desert

What did you want to be after you left school?

A marine biologist

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Rarely, but it did happen…

What was your favourite subject at school?


What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Traveled across the Altiplano, South America at 4000 m above sea level

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

David Attenborough, the great outdoors, family holidays around Australia

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

An actor or a writer

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Go to Mars (and come back!), work out a way of predicting volcanic eruptions, live and work in as many countries as possible

Tell us a joke.

Q1: What is blind and lives in a forest? A1: No idea… Q2: What is blind, has no legs and lives in a forest? A2: Still no idea..

Other stuff

Work photos:

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