Dr Robin George Andrews

Dr Robin George Andrews

Volcanologist - Science Writer - Photographer - Public Speaker - Mischief Maker

The top of the world's most beautiful stratovolcano, Mount Fuji

The top of the world's most beautiful stratovolcano, Mount Fuji

 
 

Hello! I'm the doctor. No, not that one.

Robin is curious and often ridiculous. He’s a doctor of experimental volcanology, a full-time freelance science journalist, a part-time photographer, a scientific consultant, an occasional lecturer, public speaker and explain-how-volcanoes-work TV guest, as well as a pending author of a rather curious book.

He can tell you exactly how powerful the Death Star is, how cryovolcanoes on alien worlds work, why a supervolcano probably isn’t what you think it is, and why the Moon is shrinking. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Scientific American, Quanta Magazine, Nature, Earther, Gizmodo, Forbes, The Verge, Atlas Obscura, Discover Magazine, WIRED and elsewhere.

Find him here, there, sometimes on this, and elsewhere, but if you happen to be in London, he'd much prefer to go to the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town and talk about Rick & Morty. Yes, he's always available to cameo in Star Wars and Doctor Who.

 

 

 
 

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wHAT kIND oF dOCTOR dID YOU SAY YOU WERE AGAIN?

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The Governor of Washington promised me a tour of his state’s LIGO facility. I’m definitely going to hold him to that.

So – I’m a scientist. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time featured Death Mountain, a completely unrealistic volcano, but a volcano nonetheless. Combine that with parents that did all they could to encourage me/stop me melting things inside their house and get outside instead, an amazing pair of teachers at school, and a strong penchant for mischief, and boom, you’ve got yourself a volcanologist. Well, eventually. It took an MSci in geology (I hate rocks, but I love lava) and a PhD to get there, but I did it – and it was worth it just to be the strangest doctor of them all.

Yes, Doctor Who is incredible. Yes, I want a TARDIS more than anything.

I went into a bit of self-imposed exile in New Zealand, a beautiful country at the (proverbial and literal) end of the world. I managed to simulate a mysterious eruption hundreds of years old, which was neat. There were artificial volcanoes built in New York; weird machines in Germany; puppies in an Arizona desert; helicopters in Japan. An old friend and I made it to the top of Mount Fuji, at the height of the Perseids meteor shower, moments before the Sun rose and (hypothetically) saved our frigid souls from (not quite) death. It was glorious, confusing and full of all those things you call “emotions.” An experience, it all was.

These days, I’m a freelance science journalist: I tend to crop up in The New York Times, National Geographic, The Atlantic, Earther, Gizmodo, Forbes, Scientific American, Atlas Obscura, The Verge, WIRED and more. Don't get me wrong: research was fun – and terrifying, and weird, and wonderful and utterly exhausting – but after realizing that volcanoes and geoscience alone wasn’t the only science I was enthralled by, I jumped into science writing. Leave sensationalism, fearmongering and pseudoscientific bullshit at the door: the unvarnished, poetic beauty of science and those behind the discoveries stand perfectly well on their own in a world smothered by fake news and clickbait headlines.

I’m always available for freelancing, as long as you can promise me the science is nothing less than delicious. Same for science consultancy, which I do for Outrageous Acts of Science, and for lecturing on science communication, which Imperial College – my old academic stomping ground – and UCL graciously let me do from time to time.

Sometimes, I appear at festivals (like Cheltenham’s annual foray), in schools and on stages in an attempt to make science funny. I tend to pop up on the BBC, Al Jazeera and US/Canadian news channels and stations to explain how volcanoes and earthquakes work. It’s like free therapy, in public. I’d recommend it.

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Direct all hate mail here. You can also find me on Twitter, fending off trolls, pushing back snark, and telling scientists and writers how cool they are.

 
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If we blow up an asteroid, it might put itself back together

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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Earth Has A New Way To Make Its Volcanoes

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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Why So MANY people choose to live near active volcanoes

EARTHER

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This Is What A Volcanic Temper Tantrum Looks Like

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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wHEN qUAKES spLIT tECTONIC plATES in tWO

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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The Enigmatic Colossal Kites Of The Middle East

ATLAS OBSCURA

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aN eARTHQUAKE lASTED fIFTY dAYS aND nO-oNE fELT iT. hERE’S wHY

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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ON THE HUNT FOR ANTARCTICA’S HIDDEN METEORITES

THE ATLANTIC

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How Long IS A DAY ON SATURN?

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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Snowball Earth Ate A Fifth Of The EARTH’S cRUST

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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PLANETWIDE RUMBLE HINTS AT World’s Largest Underwater Eruption

GIZMODO

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‘Toffee Planets’ Hint At Earth’s Cosmic Rarity

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

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Pyroclastic Flows Glide On Air, Boosting Their Deadly Reach

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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This Is Why The Moon Is Shrinking And Quaking

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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NASA TO SEEK IRON-SPEWING VOLCANOES AT PSYCHE

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN

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‘steve’ is two skyglows for the price of one

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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tHE real-life effects of thanos’ snapocalypse

EARTHER

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SOLAR STORMS ARE WORSE DEPENDING ON THE ROCKS YOU STAND ON

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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america’s first early warning volcano system

EARTHER

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A SUPERVOLCANO’S COLOSSAL ERUPTION HAS BEEN LYING ABOUT ITS AGE

GIZMODO

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A SUPERVOLCANO ISN’T WHAT YOU THINK IT IS

FORBES

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CAN EARTHQUAKES TRIGGER VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS?

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

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THE ALLURING DREAM OF CARBON CAPTURE

EARTHER

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HOW FORTNITE IS BEING USED TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE

THE VERGE

 
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Science Writing

Here's a selection of some of my favourite articles, from the mind and pen (well, keyboard) of yours truly. Bylines in The New York Times, The Atlantic, National Geographic, Scientific American, Quanta Magazine, Earther, Gizmodo, Forbes, WIRED, Nature, The Verge, Atlas Obscura, Discover Magazine, Earth Touch News Network, The Conversation, The London Economic, and more.


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Photography

:)

 
 
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Science on stage

You're right: that's not a stage there. That's the sky, which I enjoy falling through from time to time. I look like a right plonker on stage, but I do love it. Making science funny is something I'd happily spend a lot more time on, and so far, people are either enjoying laughing with me a lot, or at me. Either way, they're laughing, and all laughter around me is recorded and the data is set to the world's best gelotologist (an expert in the science of laughter, don't you know) so that, together, we can come up with a vaccine to sadness. Or something.

I've given talks and lectures at various primary and secondary schools around the country on why science is wicked, how we can get more boys and girls into STEM fields, what we can do to fight against alternative facts, and introductions to new media and science communication. I've stood on stage at Cheltenham Science Festival and the Large Hadron Collidor at London's magnificent Science Museum, and from time to time, I've appeared alongside some of the other deliriously silly science communicators in Science Showoff.

I've also been allowed to give lectures on science communication at a few universities, including a couple of regular spots at Imperial College London and University College London.

I'm addicted. More, please.

 
 

Volcanology

I'm a doctor of volcanoes. It's like geology, but for impatient people. Here's a little tale of what research I used to be involved in.

 
The spine of an ancient magma flow, now exposed at the surface in Arizona.

The spine of an ancient magma flow, now exposed at the surface in Arizona.

Show me some science!

I used to study maar-diatreme systems, the second most common type of volcano in the world. In recent decades, major fieldwork studies have greatly advanced our knowledge of these violent formations; despite this, much of the interpretation is strongly debated.

My original contribution to volcanological research is twofold: firstly, successfully simulating maar-diatreme systems using analogue experimentation in order to determine the processes that generate them; secondly, using mathematical modelling to produce a predictive model for their total energy release during an eruption. This study uses a tripartite, quantitative approach: (1) bench-scale experiments are used to generate simulated maar-diatreme volcanoes and examine their eruption and depositional processes; (2) these are qualitatively compared and quantitatively scaled to both field-scale experiments and natural maar-diatreme volcanoes; and (3) the 1886 maar-forming Rotomahana eruption is used as a case study for a new thermodynamic model which gives a first-order calculation of the cumulative energy change during the event.

A new conceptual model of maar-diatreme formation is conceived based on a synthesis of the findings of this thesis, which you can download here if you’re feeling so inclined. I published a few papers in a couple of academic journals, which was, er, fun.

Particle image velocimetery (PIV) of an exploding artificial volcano. Yes, this is actual science.

Particle image velocimetery (PIV) of an exploding artificial volcano. Yes, this is actual science.

What the hell was that? Explain it to me like i'm not a scientist, please.

Maar-diatreme volcanoes are weird depressions that erupt and form once, when magma and water explosively mix. No-one’s really sure how this type of eruption – a “phreatomagmatic” blast – forms maars, which is a shame, because they tend to kill plenty of people. Considering that my case study eruption site in new Zealand wasn’t available to visit for various, curious reasons, I used artificial volcanoes, both in laboratories and in field-scale experiments, along with a sprinkling of mathematics and a pitch of physics, to try and solve all of the things.

I did not solve all of the things, but I did produce a new model suggesting a) these volcanoes form in a few different ways, and b) putting volcanoes in rigidly defined classification boxes isn’t helpful.

Still not getting it.

There are volcanoes called maars, and they are violent and mysterious in both their eruptions styles and formation. I made fake volcanoes – with the help of a fantastic research team scattered all over the world – to try and find out.

I found some of the things out, but not all of the things.

Uh huh. So, got any papers published?

Yep. Here's one in Geophysical Research Letters, another in the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, and another in the Journal of the Geological Society.

What was the weirdest Part of your research?

I now know a lot more about nuclear weapons than I thought I would. The craters left behind by these mechanical monsters are oddly similar to those created during certain phreatomagmatic eruptions.

This is what it looks like when you are running away from an erupting volcano in the dark and your headlamp dies.

This is what it looks like when you are running away from an erupting volcano in the dark and your headlamp dies.

Can you speak to volcanoes or something?

No, sadly not. That would be a great superpower though.

If you fell into a volcano, would you survive?

Yes! But that’s only because the volcanoes I studied don’t have lava flowing inside their craters. They basically die as soon as they form, which, you know, is dramatic of them.

Can chris pratt and his dinosaurs outrun a pyroclastic flow?

Sadly, no. His head might even explode when it catches up to him.

Yeesh. You must be fun at parties.

Oi.

 
 

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CONTACT Robin

Tell me I’m wrong about volcanoes, or whatever you wish, using this magical form, all without even opening your email. What a time to be alive, eh?