Work Experience at the BGS Laboratories / / by Santina and Catherine

Santina from Bolton and Catherine from Leeds are both Sixth Form students, who are interested in geology and hoping to take up the subject at university. Here, they tell us about their time working in the labs at BGS HQ in Keyworth... 
Catherine and Santina by the mutliprep mass spectrometer

Starting our work experience we hoped to gain an insight into what a job in Geology/Geoscience would entail. When we applied for this placement we expected to be working within a small part of a big organisation; however it has been an incredible opportunity to be able to work with so many different people.

Throughout our week of work experience we were given an insight into the workings of the stable isotope and geochronology labs. After being introduced to some of the staff we would be working with, we were shown how to prepare carbonate samples from lake sediments for analysis that would tell us about past environments. This four day process from preparation to receiving results is important when investigating past climates and measuring the proportions of different carbon and oxygen isotopes. We gained experience in using a vacuum pump line and liquid nitrogen, which was very cool (the latter temperature was literally at -190oC!). To test our samples we were taught how to use a mass spectrometer. We have seen these in textbooks and learnt how they operate at school but it was extremely interesting to see how they function in person. From analysing our results we could see the point in time when the environment changed from fresh water to marine indicating melting of ice sheets and sea level rise.

Santina using the carbonate extraction line

Within the stable isotope facility we also had a chance to use the continuous flow mass spectrometer; we tested various materials against international standards to look at their nitrogen isotope composition (as a tracer for pollution). It was fascinating to see the different types of mass spectrometers and the different methods used to test for each isotope.

We also took part in the ‘Geological Walk’ around the Keyworth site, where we travelled back in time to see a mixture of metamorphic, igneous and sedimentary rocks through geological time - the whole 3 billion years of Earth’s history! On our last day we visited the core scanning facility and the core store where we got a chance to see the huge rock and fossil collection, we even saw dinosaur teeth and bones.

Catherine using the optima mass spectrometer

We were lucky enough to spend some time with Tim Gregory (who is quite famous from TV and radio) and learn about his research in cosmochemistry. He first gave us an introduction into the origin of planets, meteorites and chondrules which are clumps of dust from the early universe. We got to observe experimental processes in the clean lab and see how a scanning electron microscope works. Tim was even nice enough to let us use the microscope to locate and picture some chondrules.

Click here for more information about work experience with the British Geological Survey. 

About the authors: 

Hi, my name is Santina and I am going into year 13 studying Geography, Physics and Biology. I am interested in studying Geology at university as I have always had a love for the environment and the history of the earth.  I found this week very beneficial and it has managed to greaten my love for geology and has given me a good insight into the many types of jobs available after university. All the people I have met have been extremely nice and had lots of advice and knowledge about their work.

Hi, my name is Catherine and I am going into my final year of Sixth Form where I am studying A-levels in Physics, Chemistry and Geography. I am keen to study a Geoscience or Geology degree at university as I find processes and systems operating on earth fascinating. This was an amazing week of work experience at BGS as it gave me a great insight into the line of study and research I am interested in. It was a great chance to learn how to carry out some of the vital experimental techniques in Geoscience and discuss ideas with leading researchers in the field. Thank you to all the staff members that made this an incredible experience!