Nanoscale Planetary Researcher, Josh Einsle @JEinsle: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Josh Einsle, Post Doc Researcher in nanoscale planetary research

NAME: Joshua (Josh) F. Einsle

CURRENT TITLE: Post-Doctoral Research Associate

AREA OF EXPERTISE: Multi-scale Microscopy, nanoscale analytical characterisation, nanofabrication, sample preparation including Focused Ion Beam, SEM , S/TEM, x-ray micro and nano tomography

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 16 (10 years industry, 6 years in academics)

EDUCATION: BA -Physics Reed College 1996- 2000
Field Applications Engineer with FEI Company 2001-2011
PhD Physics Queens University Belfast 2007-2013


What’s your job like?

Fun. As a materials physicist by training, working on geological and planetary materials has given me access to a wide range of interesting materials questions that link nanoscale (even atomic at times) structures to planetary processes. In particular, I mainly work on paleomagnetic/rock magnetic samples to understand some of the oldest planetary magnetic records. I use advanced multi-scale and multi-dimensional microscopy techniques to reveal the shape, distribution, chemical composition and the orientation (crystallographic  as well as spatial) of the magnetic signal carriers measured in paleomagnetic studies. I specialise in focused ion beam tomography, but often work on correlative/complementary studies using x-ray and scanning transmission electron tomography. Often my tomographic results are fed into micromagnetic models to provide a fully-integrated materials science characterisation of the geological sample. This approach to rock magnetism provides a ground truth to the millimetre (or larger scale) magnetic measurements; linking the underlying nanostructures to the changes in the earth’s (and other planetary bodies) magnetic field. I work on a wide range of sample types from meteorites to paleoclimate sediments. Many of my approaches are opening the doors to single crystal-based approaches in paleomagnetics as well as other fields in geology.


This is from my trip to the LCN for some He-ion microscope experiments. Photo copyright: Josh Einsle

What’s a typical day like?

On the days of the week that I teach, I spend about 2 to 3 hours a day supervising students in practicals or in small group tutorials. On those days, I try to work on manuscripts and presentations and do easier less intensive data analysis tasks.

On my non-teaching days, I focus on running microscope experiments (some of these run up to 36 hours, between site specific preparation and data collection) or analysing data. Tomographic data, especially when combined with analytical measurements like (EDS or electron diffraction) requires large amounts of patient image processing and careful spectroscopic interrogation.  I try to block book time for focused tasks like this so I can give it the right amount of attention.


For me, field work mostly consists of visiting microscope facilities to access techniques and instruments not in Cambridge. Photo copyright: Josh Einsle

What’s fun?

The samples! I have come to really appreciate rocks and minerals in a new way since joining the earth sciences department. Also, developing new microscope techniques is fun. The stories associated with my samples offer a great way to keep me motivated. I do not know of another job where one day I am looking at zircon grains from the Jack Hills, and then the next day, I am imaging a Martian meteorite. Two weeks later, I could be taking spectra on ocean sediments and then the following week performing x-ray tomography on volcanic tephra. I even get to look at synthetic materials from time to time which keeps my hand in fundamental materials physics research. For me, it is all linked by enjoying to solve exciting scientific questions and being able to provide the answers with electron microscopes.


Finally, when we do experiments we have fun in the Nanopaleomagnetism group. This is me and Claire Nichols (@tinyspacemagnets on twitter) getting excited about a sub-70 nm lamella that we had just made for magnetic measurements at a synchrotron. Photo copyright: Josh Einsle

What’s challenging?

There are three big challenges: technical, scientific and the ‘other activities’ as needed.

Technically, the biggest challenge to any microscopy experiment is the sample preparation and understanding the limits of the technique that you are using. Geo-materials offer a wide range of sample preparation problems owing to metastable material states and samples being non-conductive.

Scientifically, there are large areas of earth and material science that lay far outside what is usually studied as a physicist. This means I am constantly finding new concepts and approaches that stretch my own understanding of nature. The desire to keep learning about new topics and trying to figure out ways to offer new insight is what got me into microscopy in the first place.

Finally, I would note that there is a large range of ‘other’ activities like conferences, paper writing, teaching and looking and applying for funding that eat into the basic ‘time budget’ for research.  I will point, out like many on this blog have, that it is a challenge to balance this. However, based on my time in the industry, you will have similar challenges to just doing technical research. The exact nature will be different, as in no paper writing maybe, but still there will be many meetings with customers and a need to train customers in how to use your product. All these challenges are worthwhile as going to a conference and presenting your work opens doors for solutions to problems you have, getting people interested in what you are doing or maybe just giving you an idea for a new experiment. This is the part of research which goes beyond the laboratory.

I enjoy all three categories of challenges, as it pushes me as a person and a scientist (well maybe not expense reports… but who likes doing expense reports?). Ultimately, I prefer the academic environment slightly more to industry, in that I have more freedom to set the agenda of what I work on and drive the pace of outputs a little more in favour of what works for me and my family.

What’s your advice to students?

Always look for value in all fields of science and other people’s research. You never know when someone says something, or does a technique that will answer a question, or will put you on a new learning path. Lately, I have been having some really interesting conversations and emails with some biologists that I meet at conferences. This is really weird as biology generally lays extremely outside my research comfort zone, but we are finding some really interesting overlaps with each other by just being willing to listen with an open mind about each other’s science.  As a final comment, I would like to also point out to all the PhDs and post-docs to remember if you want a permanent job in a university, it will most likely (as in over 98% chance) involve teaching.  To that extent, it means you either need to start practicing and developing that part of your skill set or start asking some questions about what you really want to do in science.

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