Rebecca Williams

I am so excited to have won! Thanks for asking such great questions & voting.

Favourite Thing: Hike up a volcano



1994-1999 Stratton Upper School, Bedfordshire; 1999-2002 BSc Geology Royal Holloway, University of London; 2004-2006 M.S Geology/Volcanology University at Buffalo, New York State; 2006-2010 PhD Volcanology University of Leicester


GCSEs; A levels in Maths, Physics, Geography and General Studies; BSc Geology; MS Geology/Volcanology; PhD Volcanology

Work History:

Lots of places! From factories making bath smellies, to offices, from being a cleaner to running a Scuba diving shop and working as a PADI Divemaster! My best job yet though was working at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Current Job:



University of Hull

Me and my work

I study volcanoes and try to understand what they might do when they erupt.

I’m a volcanologist. I am interested in how volcanoes behave when they erupt. myimage2 I am particularly interested in the different types of flows that come out of volcanoes during the biggest eruptions. These include flows of mud and water, but also flows of hot gas, ash and rocks (these are called pyroclastic density currents – that’s a mouthful!). These type of flows are what buried the roman town of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius erupted. I try to understand more about these flows by studying the deposits they leave behind. I study the deposits in detail, record what they look like and make interpretations on the kinds of flows that I think formed them. I even spent 2 months living on a scientific drilling ship studying submarine volcanoes underneath the Pacific Ocean. myimage1 I brought back samples from these volcanoes to the lab where I crush rocks and analyse what the chemical composition of them is. This tells me about how the rock was made, and what the magma chamber underneath the volcano might be like.

I’m always waffling about what I do all over the internet. I’m on Twitter (@volcanologist), on YouTube and on my blog.

My Typical Day

I am a lecturer so I spend my day teaching students, researching volcanoes, drinking coffee and running.

I start work at 8 am and prepare for the day ahead in my office myimage7. If it is during term time, I would be teaching our undergraduate students about geology and physical geography. myimage8 I might be lecturing on plate tectonics, or landslides, or my favourite topic-volcanoes! Here we are simulating a volcanic eruption using liquid nitrogen! myimage3I would also meet my research students – these are undergraduate students who are doing projects with me on a variety of topics from volcanoes to forensic geology. I would also try and fit in some research. This might mean looking at thin slices of rock under a microscope to see what minerals the rock is made of, or I might be crushing and dissolving rocks to try and find out their chemical make-up. myimage6 During the university vacation I might be out on fieldwork – I like to go to volcanoes around the world and study the deposits that are formed during volcanic eruptions. myimage9 Or this summer, I am building an experiment where I will be able to simulate volcanic mudflows, called lahars, to try and understand their behaviour better. Every day I also try and get out for a run – though I normally only find time 3 or 4 days a week. I run to keep fit so I can hike up volcanoes, and also clear my mind to help come up with genius ideas! myimage5

What I'd do with the money

Build a virtual reality volcano sandbox!

Have you ever played in a sand box and built hills and valleys? Maybe you’ve played with a stream table and built a river valley and flowed water through it? You can build topography in the sand (hills and valleys) then flow water over it to see where rivers might flow, where they erode material and where they deposit it. Some clever people have taken a sandbox and an XBox kinect to make a virtual reality stream table. myimage10 Students can build topography, then flow water over it. The kinect projects an interactive map and stream onto the sand – you can pull down a mountain in the sand and see how that changes where the river will flow.

What I want to do is take this virtual reality experiment and design a program that simulated volcanic eruptions! We can build different shaped volcanoes and simulate different types of flows – lava, mudflows and pyroclastic density currents (flows of hot gas, ash and rocks). Students will be able to learn what kind of flows will go where. I could use this as part of my teaching, but more exciting, is that when local school children come to visit, they can use it to learn about the kind of research I do and have a go themselves. I could even take it on tour to events such as the Cheltenham Science Festival or the Big Bang Fair – so you could come and give it a go too!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

geology geek, runner

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Kings of Leon

What's your favourite food?

Beans on toast

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Take a helicopter flight over Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

What did you want to be after you left school?

A geophysicist on time team – I didn’t know then you could be a volcanologist!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

A little bit but shhhh, that’s a secret.

What was your favourite subject at school?


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

Hike over active lava flows on Hawaii – my boots melted a bit!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Watching time team – I thought I could do the geophysics bit.

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

I’d have a bookshop and sell freshly baked cakes.

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

1. To visit Mt Erebus in Antarctica; 2. To scuba dive the Mid-Atlantic rift in Iceland; 3. I really REALLY want a puppy.

Tell us a joke.

Do you want a geology joke? Give me a minute, I’ll go dig one up…

Other stuff

Work photos:

Prendergast Vale College asked me if I’ve really walked on lava flows. SO I found this picture of a friend of mine walking on lava – you can see a bit to his right where the crust has broken – the red glow is flowing lava!


You have to be very careful to walk on lava flows, and know what you are doing. I worked here, so was trained to do it safely. Look at the rest of my profile for another picture of lava-close up!

Penn Hall School in Wolverhampton asked to see a picture of me wearing a gas mask, so here it is! myimage4

This is a picture of me working at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. I worked as a gas chemist – I would sample the gases and find out what was in them. This tells you about what the magma under the volcano is like and what it is doing.

I am wearing a bandanna to keep my hair out of the way and protect my head from the sun. You can see the volcanic gas coming out from behind me.