Conference diaries: Goldschmidt 2013

Originally posted on the EGU blog network

Following on from Mel Auker’s report on her visit to Japan for the The IAVCEI Scientific Assembly, Kate and Sorcha tell us about their recent trip to Florence for Goldschmidt 2013.

What? The annual Goldschmidt conference is a major geochemistry conference, alternating between Europe and North America each year. With over 4,000 delegates from all over the world attending, this year’s gathering consisted of 22 themes, and many sessions within. Topics varied from the geochemistry of bottled water, to a Martian origin for life on Earth, with a new Volcanoes and Hazards session added this year. Talks were given all day every day, with poster sessions and refreshments each evening. Many social events were offered too, including a cheese and wine evening, film showings and a conference banquet.

When? The conference was from the 25th – 30th August, 2013, and started with an icebreaker on Sunday 24th.

Where? Florence, Italy. The conference was held in the Firenze Fiera Congress and Exhibition Centre,  just a few minutes walk from the city centre.

We began our conference experience a few days early, departing Bristol in the early hours of Friday morning. After a long morning travelling, we arrived to a very hot Florence with good appetites. Thankfully, the famous Italian cuisine did not disappoint! Our first meal of delicious stone-baked pizza was followed by the first of many servings of gelato. We spent the rest of the day settling into our lovely central apartment, and recovering from the six flights of stairs!

Over the weekend, we took the opportunity to explore the beautiful city of Florence. A particular highlight was visiting the Boboli Gardens, 16th-century gardens behind the Pitti Palace, which was the main seat of the Medici grand dukes of Tuscany.

View over Florence from the Boboli Gardens. Credit: Sorcha McMahon

As true geologists, we found the impressive rock tables in the in the Medici Treasury worth a photo or two!

Rock table in the in the Medici Treasury. Credit: Sorcha McMahon
Rock table in the in the Medici Treasury. Credit: Sorcha McMahon

On Saturday evening, we made a headstart on ‘networking’; popping prosecco on a rooftop terrace with former colleagues of Kate’s.

Continuing our cultural experience, on Sunday, we visited the Gallerie dell’Accademia, housing Michelangelo’s David. Despite a rather long and hot queue, it was definitely worth the visit and left us determined to research some of Tuscany’s rich history.

On Sunday evening, we attended the conference Icebreaker after registering. Here we enjoyed (more) prosecco and caught up with friends from other institutions, and many former Bristol colleagues. Sorcha even managed to make an arch-nemesis; an aim of hers since starting the PhD!

Monday: Talks began at 9am on Monday morning, and somewhat reassuringly even the ‘grown-up’ scientists seemed to suffer from nerves and some technical issues. After an intense morning of talks, we accidentally stumbled upon a group of important researchers for lunch and both experienced what was to be our favourite pasta dishes of the week (the culinary delights were definitely the highlights of Goldschmidt 2013!).

In the first of the poster sessions, Kate presented her work on ‘Searching for Evidence for Mo Isotope Fractionation in the Mantle’ and Sorcha learnt about double-spikes and decided she could now be part of the ‘moly’ crew (affectionate nickname for the molybdenum group she had heard so much about in Prague at Goldschmidt 2011).

Kate Hibbert presenting her poster in Monday’s ‘Siderophile and chalcophile element systematics in terrestrial processes’ session. Credit: Sorcha McMahon

Our academic highlight for the day was a keynote talk by Francis Nimmo entitled ‘Dynamical and Isotopic Perspectives on Accretion and Core Formation‘. This was a topic quite unrelated to Sorcha’s area of research but the clear presentation made it very accessible.

Tuesday: Sorcha’s highlight for the day was Dan Frost’s talk on ‘The Stability of Carbonate Melt in Eclogite Rocks with Respect to Oxygen Fugacity‘, discussing the use of an Ir sensor in experiments as a sliding redox sensor. Interestingly, there was a poster (‘Phase Relations of Carbonate Eclogite during Subduction and the Effect of Redox Conditions on Diamond–Carbonate Reactions‘ by P. Vasilyev) presented in the afternoon explaining a similar approach but in a lab on the other side of the world!

We all attended the lunchtime plenary session, which began with the presentation of awards (ten awards were given out, but none to women; sparking a Twitter debate and much outrage). Francis Albarede gave the plenary talk on ‘Isotopes of Disease‘, providing a glimpse into using isotopes for medical purposes, and an interesting insight into the uses of geochemistry in medical research.

On Tuesday evening, we were lucky enough to have much sought-after tickets for the Thermo ‘users meeting’ in the Basilica. The so-called ‘Thermo Party’ is sponsored by Thermo Scientific, providers of free food and drinks (and lots of very useful equipment used in the Bristol department).

Wednesday: A former Bristol PhD student (and one of our Florentine housemates), Susan Little, presented her talk ‘Calculation of Mass (Im-)balance in the Oceanic Cycling of Cu and Zn Isotopes‘. This was a totally unfamiliar topic for us but highlighted the huge and varied applicability of isotope geochemistry in the Earth Sciences. That evening, for those without talks the next day, there was the infamous BIG party to attend. BIG stands for the Bristol Isotope Group, and at each Goldschmidt meeting, members of the research group (both old and new), and associates meet up in a bar for an evening. Here, Kate experienced her personal highlight of the week – a hug and kiss from Terry Plank (subduction goddess!). The evening also included Kate’s food highlight of the week – Florentine style steak, ordered by the kilo and out-of-this-world delicious.

Thursday: It was a slow start for half the household, but Bristol alumnus Emma and Sorcha had their talks in the ‘Small Degree Partial Melts and a Deep Carbon Connection’ session. Sorcha presented her research on ‘Trace Element Partitioning between Carbonate Globules and Silicate Glass in Volcanic Carbonatites‘ and was very relieved when it was over! There were lots of interesting talks in this session, covering major subjects such as identifying the primary carbonatite melt composition (pretty controversial!), providing much food for thought.

Continuing the carbon theme, the plenary talk on Thursday was given by Robert Hazen, ‘Earth’s Carbon Through Deep Time‘. In less than 45 minutes, we were taken through the evolution of the Universe in terms of the chemical, physical, and biological roles of carbon. As had been mentioned in some of the carbon-rich sessions attended during the week, the Open Access volume of Reviews in Mineralogy and Geochemistry (RiMG) ‘Carbon in Earth’ was further promoted. This special edition of the journal is a product of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO), a 10-year international research effort dedicated to achieving transformational understanding of the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth (link). Another one of the take-home messages from this talk was the want for there to be a different approach to science with large consistent databases imperative to the progress in geochemistry and many other disciplines.

By the time the final poster session came along, we had reached science saturation point and could no longer read!

Friday: Today, Sorcha attended a much-anticipated ‘Volatiles in the Mantle’ session with Novella’s ‘The Formation of Low Degree Hydrous Melts in the Earth’s Upper Mantle‘ being her highlight. We ended the conference in an extremely varied session; the penultimate talk discussing the need to develop a cyberinfrastructure in research (‘Developing a Cyberinfrastructure Vision for Geochemistry, Petrology and Volcanology‘ presented by K. Lehnert). Unfortunately, this presentation was poorly attended due to the timing, but raised a number of interesting points including the fact that 85% of researchers spend 80% of their time just looking for data, and formatting systematically – something we think most PhD students can relate to!

Fun facts:

  • Number of different ice-cream flavours eaten: Kate – 9, Sorcha – 8 (repeated Stracciatella offender).
  • Tomato and mozzarella salads: 4 (only counting those eaten in our apartment).
  • Types of wine/beer/prosecco/other tried: Many. For research purposes, we sampled a selection of local produce including Chianti and Grappa.
  • Number of people introduced to and then name immediately forgotten: Countless.
  • Questions asked in talks: 0, except Susan (an inspiration!).
  • Number of post-docs secured: Ermmm…


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About Sorcha McMahon

I am investigating how carbonatites may form, using both natural rock and experimental approaches.

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