School of Geography, Geology and the Environment

Talks for schools

Unless stated otherwise, the target audience for all talks is AS- (year 12) and A-level (year 13) science students, and the length is approximately 50 minutes.

To book talks, please contact us:

Careers in geoscience

Lecturer: Dr Marc Reichow (Schools Liaison Tutor)

Geology looks at some of the most important issues in society including energy sources and sustainability, climate change, the impacts of developments on the environment, water management, mineral resources and natural hazards. Careers in geoscience are therefore fundamental to society and our planet. This talk details the fantastic career opportunities for geoscience graduates in the 21st century, and what Leicester offers students on our courses.

This is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level students and will be most for year 12 students who are making choices about which subject to apply for at university and who may be considering a geology degree. It can also be tailored to younger year groups who are in the process of making AS-level choices.

Finding gold

Lecturer: Professor Gawen Jenkin

Finding gold - from the Solomon Islands to Scotland. Gold is mostly useless in practical terms - ­around 90% of it is used for jewellery or bullion. In addition, it is a very rare metal, but despite (or because of) this, it is sought-after and highly valued by the human race and now forms a key component in the world economy, generating vast amounts of wealth. Here I show how we are carrying out research to help locate new gold deposits in "frontier" areas with little or no previously known mineralisation.

The Solomon Islands fall within the southwest Pacific arcs famed for a number of giant gold deposits, but the highly-vegetated terrain is challenging for exploration. The active geothermal system on Savo volcano allows us to examine the topmost part of a potentially mineralising system, and shows that travertine deposits formed at hot springs could present a new marker for gold mineralising systems in the region.

Cononish mine at Tyndrum is now under development ­- Scotland's first gold mine in 500 years. This is set to have a huge positive impact on the economic prosperity of the area, and here we are working with Scotgold to see if we can help locate the next gold mine and so sustain the economic benefits beyond the lifetime of Cononish. We are working to understand the hydrothermal system that formed Cononish and other gold occurrences. This, in turn, will help develop an exploration model that can be applied to help discriminate the more promising prospects and make exploration more efficient. 

Whilst the gold veins almost certainly relate to an intrusion at depth driving fluid flow, we are increasingly finding that the source of the sulphur is from the Dalradian metasediments. This begs the question as to where the gold is coming from, and therefore what part of the hydrothermal system it might be concentrated in.

Suitable for AS/A-level students with some knowledge of geology, or an amateur audience.

Future climates: clues from the geological past

Lecturer: Professor Mark Williams

This talk focuses on the record of climate change in the recent geological past and the implications of current climate change in that context.

A brief history of asbestos

Lecturer: Dr Dan Smith

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that has long been used for its heat- and chemical-resistant properties, but the realisation that it causes serious lung damage led to a significant reduction in its use in the 20th century. Now, questions are being asked of its potential hazard as a rock in the wild…

This talk will cover the geology and mineralogy of asbestos, its changing use through history, and its impact on the environment and humans to the present day and beyond. 

This talk is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level students.

How to build an ore deposit

Lecturer: Professor Gawen Jenkin

Metals are vital to our modern society. This talk examines the processes that form economic concentrations of metals. There is time in this session to examine some samples of mineralised rock from ore deposits around the world.

This talk is suitable for AS/A-level students with some knowledge of geology.

In search of the Earth's treasures

Lecturer: Professor Dave Holwell

This lecture explains how geologists go about exploring for, locating and extracting the Earth's most precious resources. From platinum in the African Savannah, through diamonds in the forests of deepest Russia, to gold in the mountains of Greenland, this world tour gives you a feel for the life of an exploration geologist. Helicopters, off-roading, bush-whacking and close encounters with bears, snakes and leopards are all in a day's work.

Inside the Earth

Lecturer: Dr Andrew Miles

Earth sciences are about understanding how the Earth works - something we need to know, because events such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and changes in sea level or climate are starting to have an impact on our densely-populated world. At the same time, however, these phenomena (which to us are disasters) are a natural part of the way the Earth works. We can use them to 'see' deep inside the Earth, to understand how the planet is put together and how it changes with time.

In this lecture, we ask the question 'what is inside the Earth?' Finding the answer provides a good illustration of the detective work that is typical of investigations in earth sciences. 

Suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level students. 

Mythology and geology: Volcanic hazards, ore deposits and geothermal power in the Solomon Islands

Lecturer: Dr Dan Smith

The Solomon Islands is a geologically active country in the southwest Pacific. Written history of events, including tsunami and volcanic eruptions, only extends back to the late 1800s, so our knowledge of how and when volcanoes erupted is confined to myths and stories passed down through families, and data we can derive from careful geoscience. This talk will focus on Savo volcano, its myths and legends, and how they can be related to the geology. 

We will discuss the future of the volcano, and how our improving knowledge can be used to limit the impact of any future eruptions, and develop Savo as a resource for understanding mineral deposits, and even generating electricity for the Solomon Islanders. 

This talk is suitable for AS/A-level students with an interest in geology.

Seismic tomography - what is it, and what can we see?

Lecturer: Professor Stewart Fishwick

This talk covers the basics of seismic tomography - what is the data, how do we make a velocity model, and how do we interpret the results? The talk focuses on the imaging of mantle plumes, and whether we can really tell where they form, their shape, and some implications for mantle convection.  

The Guinness book of mineral deposits

Lecturer: Professor Gawen Jenkin

The human race must sustainably exploit Earth's natural resources to survive. This talk aims to describe some of the biggest and most valuable mineral deposits in the world and how they are formed, including porphyry copper deposits and diamonds. Some hand specimens of mineralised rock can be brought along for examination - but unfortunately no diamonds...!

This talk is suitable for AS/A-level students with some knowledge of geology.

What is geoscience?/How many ways can the Earth kill you?

Lecturer: Professor Gawen Jenkin

The first part of the talk is a general introduction to the geosciences, exploring the breadth and excitement of this subject, and offering a brief introduction to what Leicester offers students on our courses. The second part is an interactive discussion on geological hazards from tsunami to heavy metal poisoning.

Length is approximately 50 minutes, but the second section can be done in a separate longer session with a break in between - giving 40 plus 30 minutes in all, including some time for a question-and-answer session on geoscience courses at Leicester.

This talk is especially suitable for year 11 and high-achieving year 10 students who may be contemplating a geoscience degree at university.

When volcanoes explode: what Mount St Helens taught us

Lecturer: Professor Mike Branney

Given by a volcanologist with first-hand experience of explosive volcanoes, this talk introduces aspects of volcano geology, explained in the context of the build-up and aftermath of the famous 1980s US eruption.

Rotten fish and the fossil record

Lecturer: Professor Mark Purnell

Questions about the deep evolution of vertebrates are fundamental to understanding our own place in the tree of life. What were our earliest vertebrate ancestors like? How, when and why did they acquire characteristic features such as eyes, stiff vertebral columns, and muscular bodies?

The fossil record has a crucial role to play in answering these questions, but it can be difficult to decode the cryptic remains of life from hundreds of millions of years ago, especially when the animals involved lacked bones, teeth and shells - how did the soft parts of these animals become fossilised?

This lecture will explain how our research is providing new answers to these questions. By rotting primitive fishes and their near-relatives, we can avoid some of the biases that distort our view of early vertebrates and get a clearer picture of our deep evolutionary roots. Decayed remains reveal how the characteristic features that palaeontologists use to recognise and identify the most ancient fossil vertebrates are transformed and then lost during decay.

The process of loss, it turns out, is not random, and might be having a significant impact on the fossil record of our most ancient ancestry.


Lecturer: Dr Andrew Miles

The 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland cost the airline industry over £1 billion, with nearly 50% of all European flights cancelled over an 8-day period. This eruption affected about 10 million people. However, this eruption was a mere puff of hot air compared to some of the volcanic eruptions that have occurred throughout Earth's history.

In this lecture, we look at how volcanic eruptions have influenced human history, our artwork and even our evolution, and we will delve deep under the Pacific Ocean to look for evidence of what was perhaps the largest of all Earth's volcanic outpourings.

Suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level students.

Mining methods and hazards

Lecturer: Toby White

An explanation of why mining is so important to our way of life, and a summary of surface and underground mining methods used to extract the resources. Hazards associated with mining are described, including subsidence, acid mine drainage, methane, slope failures and tailings dam failures. A number of case studies are included.

This talk is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level geology groups, particularly those studying for WJEC board exams.

UK mineral resources

Lecturer: Toby White

An explanation of why mining is so important to our way of life, and a summary of surface and underground mining methods used to extract the resources. The UK has a wide variety of resources, and the uses and methods of extraction are described. These focus on coal and aggregates, but also refer to tungsten, lead, zinc, fluorspar, barytes, tin and copper, whose origins are also briefly explained.

This talk is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level geology groups, particularly for OCR board A-level.

Oil and gas exploration and extraction

Lecturer: Toby White

This contains a basic introduction to the formation of an oil/gas resources (generation, reservoirs, seals and traps), together with the range of methods used for exploration. Production is also considered, giving examples from different settings. 

This talk is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level geology groups.

The future of coal

Lecturer: Toby White

Although the burning of coal is known to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the rate of consumption of coal continues to rise rapidly. This talk examines the origins, extraction and uses of coal, and describes the different methods of carbon capture and storage which are currently being developed. 

This talk is suitable for AS/A-level geology and science groups.

St Aidan's open cast coal site: a case study of a major slope failure

Lecturer: Toby White

This detailed case study describes the method of extraction used in open cast coal operations, and the importance of understanding rock mass behaviour when designing a mine. The mechanism and consequences of this failure are described in detail. 

This talk is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level geology groups, particularly those studying for WJEC board exams.

From rocks to rockets: the origin and uses of shape memory alloys

Lecturer: Toby White

This talk gives an introduction to smart materials, and then focuses on the smart alloy known as Nitinol; an alloy of nickel and titanium. The origins, extraction and processing of these metals is then described, before looking at Nitinol's use as part of the Rosetta Space Mission to land a space vehicle on a comet. 

This talk is suitable for GCSE and AS/A-level geology and science groups.

The environmental impact of mining

Lecturer: Toby White

This considers the various impacts that mineral extraction can have on the environment. This includes underground and surface mining, and considers impacts on the human and natural environment. The planning system is briefly described, together with monitoring and mitigation which may be required. 

This talk is suitable for AS/A-level Environmental Science or Studies students.

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