The surface of the Earth is constantly changing. Continents have collided and drifted apart, and new oceans have formed (over millions of years) to give us the Earth we have today. But the Earth is still changing and some surprising things are happening right now.

Scientists today

PhD Student
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford


David Ferguson 400pxCareer path and qualifications

I studied Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Geography and English at Higher Grade, then went on to do a BSc course in Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow. After graduating I moved to University College London to carry on my scientific studies with an MSc course in Geosciences. I then moved to the University of Oxford to study for a PhD in Earth Sciences.


What inspired you to study volcanoes?

I've always been interested in the natural world and in understanding how and why things are the way they are. At school I enjoyed science and I thought that studying geology would be a good way to combine my interests in science with spending time outdoors.

As a student at Glasgow I became more and more interested in volcanoes. During my undergraduate degree I spent a summer working as a geologist with an engineering company and decided that I was probably more interested in doing scientific research than helping to build roads! During my Masters degree at the University of London I did a research project on a volcano in the Canary Islands and this got me interested in doing a PhD.


My project

I'm researching a group of active volcanoes in a remote part of northern Ethiopia, one of the most exciting and unique areas on the planet, which lets me combine fieldwork with cutting-edge lab techniques.


What do you enjoy about your job?

It's an exciting area to work in and I'm very fortunate to be able to spend part of my time travelling to Ethiopia to collect lava samples from the volcanoes and monitoring any new eruptions. By measuring some of the chemical ingredients that make up the rocks we can discover what happens underground when the magma is being created and as it moves up through the Earth before erupting at the surface.


David Ferguson in labThe future

After my PhD I'll continue with research, focusing on volcanoes and how they work, ideally as a research scientist at a university.


Outside the lab

When I'm not thinking about volcanoes, I like music and playing the guitar, being slightly obsessed with politics, going to the theatre and the odd game of ultimate Frisbee.



Watch videos of what it's like to be a scientist working on these topics:

A day in the life of a seismologist

A day in the life of a geophysicist

More films can be downloaded from the Afar Rift Consortium's website.