Dr Henrietta Cathey is a Research Officer within QUT's Central Analytical Research Facility. She is a geoscientist who specialises in volcanology and igneous petrology, as well as microanalysis.
Why is your work important?
The ability to measure spatial variations in the elemental composition of solid materials at the micron scale helps us understand what conditions (such as temperature and pressure) are required for their formation. This kind of knowledge about natural materials or those synthesized in the laboratory can yield predictive power – it helps us to track natural processes that we can’t control, like the ways magmas behave in the lead-up to a volcanic eruption, or design processes that we can control, such as experiments that create new materials for sustainable energy use.
What excites or inspires you about your field?
As a geoscientist, I remain inspired and challenged by the matters of scale that demand our thought – across orders of magnitude in time and space – and by the superb analytical tools we have that give us ‘remote access’ to events in Earth’s past that inform our present. Such tools allow us to quantify the extraordinary pace of current global environmental changes and contextualize the role of humans in this. We can also model and visualize processes we cannot experience directly. I am always fascinated to compare the ‘zoomed out’ world of natural landscapes to the intricacies of the view at the microscopic level.
What are you working on at the moment?
Together with colleagues in earth science and materials science, I am measuring and mapping the elemental compositions of a range of natural and synthetic materials at the micron scale, using QUT’s electron microprobe.
I’m investigating minerals from ‘super-eruptions’ along the Yellowstone hotspot track for clues about how such volcanic systems operate.
I am also working with QUT colleagues and HDR students whose projects include lavas from Western Australia that provide insight into earth’s early history (~3.4 billion years ago), as well as more geologically ‘youthful’ submarine volcanoes in the southwest Pacific that host economic mineral deposits, and a deep undersea caldera volcano that erupted to produce huge pumice rafts in 2012.
Concurrently, I am working with materials scientists at QUT to characterize experimentally produced materials for next-generation technologies in energy storage.
What are your hopes for the future?
I hope for ongoing breakthroughs in our ability to integrate technological and scientific solutions with social and political systems to create global sustainability.