BGS blogs

Working at BGS as an postgraduate intern

Environmental geochemistry masters student, Katie Williams, shares her experience following a placement in the Stable Isotope Facility

15/06/2022 By BGS Press
Mineral section.
Thin section of an olivine gabbro used to determine the processes that led to the formation of the Oman Ophiolite. Source: BGS © UKRI

Recently I spent a few weeks with the British Geological Survey (BGS) on a work experience placement at their headquarters in Keyworth, Nottingham. As the placement was part of my MSc degree in Environmental Geochemistry at the University of Plymouth, I was mainly based in the Stable Isotope Facility, with my time split between sample preparation in the laboratory and understanding the sustainability projects both within the BGS labs and wider organisation.

I was interested in gaining experience of working in the laboratories because of my dissertation, undertaken as part of my MSc, on a petrological study of the layered and foliated gabbros found at the Oman ophiolite and their formation. In the laboratories, I was able to experience sample preparation of both organic and inorganic samples ready for analysis using a mass spectrometer. Sample preparation involved lots of weighing, with samples coming from a wide variety of sources ranging from lake sediments to archaeological animal tooth enamel, and some samples weighing less than 1 mg in mass (which is extremely small!).

Image shows sample preparation of inorganic samples in preparation for carbon isotope analysis in the BGS Stable Isotope Facility.
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Sample preparation of inorganic samples ready for carbon isotope analysis in the BGS Stable Isotope Facility. Source: BGS © UKRI

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The samples are analysed for a variety of stable isotopes, which can help answer a range of questions including the nature of past climates and environments at the time of deposition (lake sediments) or formation (tooth enamel). In addition to preparing samples, I was shown how carbon dioxide is extracted from the samples and analysed on a mass spectrometer, and my thanks go to Jack Lacey and Chloe-Walker Trivett who supervised my time in the labs.

As well as laboratory experience, I spent time understanding the sustainability initiatives of the BGS labs, namely the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF), created by University College London. The initiative aims to improve the sustainability of laboratories using a certification system and shared good practise. The BGS currently has Silver accreditation and is working towards the gold standard certification (thanks to Angela Lamb and Leah Crosby). To increase sustainability in the lab, I put together a sustainability guide that can be disseminated to staff and visitors to raise awareness.

Staff have a very hands-on approach when considering the environment of the BGS Keyworth campus and have formed a staff wilding group. The group invited me along for a lunchtime session and I helped to build a bug hotel aimed at increasing biodiversity on site. During my placement I also spent some time with the Rushcliffe Big Business Carbon Club who were visiting BGS to discuss shared ways of improving i sustainability.

Image of the Rushcliffe Big Business Carbon Club after attending a talk on sustainability and carbon reduction initiatives.
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Rushcliffe Big Business Carbon Club attending a talk on sustainability and carbon reduction initiatives at BGS Keyworth. Source: BGS © UKRI

As my career progresses, I hope to work with organisations like BGS in future. The staff at BGS were very welcoming and it is a great place to work.

About the author

Katie Williams is a Masters student studying Environmental Geochemistry at the University of Plymouth where she is currently writing her thesis on the Petrographic and Trace Element Geochemistry of the 2021 Soufrière St Vincent explosive sequence.

Katie Williams: LinkedIn url: www.linkedin.com/in/katie-williams-224037206

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