Lecturer in Geophysics, Luca De Siena, tells us about teaching, volcanoes, negotiating sleep with his son and his passion for tango dancing.

Tell us about your role at the University

I am Lecturer in Geophysics in the Department of Geology and Petroleum Geology, School of Geosciences. My background is in Physics, but I have been working with Italian volcano-monitoring institutions during my PhD, and nowadays I am getting more and more interested in the interdisciplinary aspects of volcano science. My position is research and teaching focused. I teach in the Geology BSc and Geophysics MSc, and in the Sixth Century Course Restless Volcan; my main expertise is in seismic imaging of volcanoes. In my research, I apply new theories developed in Physics to volcano seismology, including all the computational and data aspects necessary to produce reliable images of plumbing systems and magmatism. Incidentally, this research can be applied to Earth resources imaging, leading to projects funded by oil and gas companies. I currently lead a group of four PhDs working on volcano-related research.

I am the only Physicist currently hired at the School of Geosciences, mainly because of my background in a volcano monitoring institution. When you “talk volcanoes” in the School, I will sooner or later get in the conversation, even if my favourite side of the subject is our current ability in imaging a volcano, more than modelling its dynamics or formation. I spend a considerable amount of time teaching; I should not tell this (my colleagues advised me not too) but I do actually love teaching, especially to people with a different background with respect to mine. It helps making yourself clear in your research and understanding if what you do has an actual impact on other people, or is just fun for you and a couple of your colleagues.

How do you usually start your day?
With my baby’s scream, at around 5:50am (if lucky – considering he is now waking up 2-3 times a night!). The next 2 hours are spent by me and my wife trying (unsuccessfully) to convince him it is too early, preparing myself (15-20 min), and preparing him to either go to nursery or for the fact I am going to work (this 8-hrs long walks dad has just for fun, he really cannot stand!). Once in my office, teaching, marking, supervising, or doing research are all very easy tasks in comparison.
What brought you to the University of Aberdeen?

I have always wanted a research-focused career. I spent my PhD-time learning how to use Physics skills to do research and teach in Earth Science. After 4 years in Germany as post-doc researcher in an institute studying the Earth’s mantle/core, I was looking for a position that could improve my chances of supervising research students, and that would provide better resources for my research.

The School of Geosciences was offering this opportunity at the right time, allowing me to work with people with very different expertise with respect to institutions where I had worked before. Also, here I can teach students with different backgrounds (Physics, Engineering , Geology) which always leads to fruitful cooperation and better understanding of different aspects of research.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

I go to classes and see students who are truly interested in the different aspects of my research. I sit down in my office and colleagues come to share their knowledge and are passionate about my work. Most of the time, I can decide my work schedule. And I travel, and get paid for it! Always wanted this job, will never complain about it.

What are your work priorities at the moment?
I want to set up a research-group in volcano imaging, one of the most exciting topics for the Earth Science community. This means tutoring PhD students effectively, supervising MSc students in Geophysics that show an interest in this branch of academic and industrial research, and convince Geology and Physics students that their studies are a perfect platform to work on the topic. I strive for teaching in an effective way, especially to large undergraduate classes. And, obviously, I am progressing in what every researcher in my field is interested in: publishing high-level research related to topics I am passionate about.
How do you like to relax outside work?
With my wife Elisabetta, I am the official Aberdeen University Dance Society Tango Argentino teacher. I have been dancing tango since 2009, and started teaching it in Germany in 2013. Every time I go to a conference I spend most evenings/night dancing in “milongas” across the city, where I meet Tango dancers from all over the world. While in Aberdeen, teaching Tango every Thursday evening is my favourite relaxing time. My best time is with my one year old kid, but I would never define it as relaxing.