PhD Student, Structural Geology, Chris Yeomans @SWgeoscience: A Day in the GeoLife Series


Chris Yeomans in Bolivia at the Salar de Uyuni. Photo copyright: Chris Yeomans

NAME: Chris Yeomans

CURRENT TITLE: PhD student and Postgraduate Research Assistant at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom

AREA OF EXPERTISE: GIS, geophysics, geological lineament detection, SW England geology, geological mapping, structural geology, geothermal energy exploration

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: Final year PhD student with previous experience in geothermal energy exploration and mineral exploration.

EDUCATION: Studied Resource and Applied Geology at the undergraduate level at the University of Birmingham and MSc Mining Geology at the University of Exeter.

What’s your job like?

My job is a balance between finishing my PhD study and applying my research findings to help local industry.

My PhD research on SW England geology has focussed on looking at the granites that make the geology here famous. The granites are the driving force behind widespread mineralisation across the region that has primarily been exploited for tin, copper, and tungsten. The last metal mine in SW England closed in 1998, however, new beginnings are afoot with a new tungsten mine now open near Plymouth and several mining companies returning in the region.

Another aspect of my research is to look at the faults that cross the region, including the granites, which create an extensive and complicated fracture network. These fractures can be several kilometres or more in length. Some are associated with tin and copper or tungsten and have previously been exploited by miners. Others do not contain metals that can be mined by machines, but these fractures can penetrate deep into the Earth and may be open at depth. Within these deep fractures, we expect to find hot geothermal waters. Not only can these waters be used for energy (either electricity or heat production) but some may also have metals dissolved in them such as lithium.

For my job, I work closely with the new mining companies in the region to better understand the fracture network and the relationships with granite in their target areas. This means I work with companies looking for tin, copper, or tungsten but most recently I have been working with a company called Cornish Lithium Ltd. Cornish Lithium is a new company. They are looking for these metals dissolved in the hot geothermal waters beneath our feet. As the company name suggests, they are specifically targeting lithium and hope that Cornwall (one of the counties in SW England) can become a producer of lithium in Europe to meet the rising demand for the metal due to the ‘electric vehicle revolution.’ It is my job to work closely with their geologists to help identify key fractures that may be of interest to them so they can plan where to spend their money next.

structural geology

Sea view at Sennen Cove, Land’s End. Photo copyright: Chris Yeomans

What’s a typical day like?

A typical day is difficult to describe so I’ll try to tell you more about what I get up to across a working week.

Perhaps the most important part of my job is talking to the company or companies involved in the project. Finding out the needs of companies and identifying how my research can help them is absolutely key to a successful partnership. This requires a lot of talking, usually over coffee and some extra special biscuits, but means that I can then go away and work on something that will directly benefit their business.

Once I’ve done a few days of work on what was discussed, it’s back to coffee and biscuits to decide the merits of what’s been done and where we need to improve. It’s also very rewarding when new data comes available that I can feedback into my research so the discussions are very much two-way exchanges of ideas.

Another important aspect of research is making sure people know what you’re doing, understand how it works and, perhaps most importantly, why you’re doing it and its benefits. Doing a PhD that allows me to directly interact with local companies means that it is a part of the job that I can enter with great enthusiasm knowing I could impart positive change. Living in a region that has a long history of mining makes talking to the public that little bit easier, and people are more receptive to hearing about my work and the apparent revival in the mining sector here in SW England. Talking about my research and the work I do can range from local conferences, lectures to special interest groups, or simply talking to people over a drink on a Friday evening.

What’s fun?

I love living in SW England but one of the best parts of the job is travel. I have been lucky enough during my short career to visit six continents to look at rocks or talk about rocks. It also makes you really appreciate being home, and I love coming back after a long time away, getting off the six-hour train from London Paddington and smelling the sea air.


Historic engine houses at Crown’s Mine, Botallack, Land’s End. Photo copyright: Chris Yeomans

What’s challenging?

When research doesn’t give you the results you expect. Weeks have been lost during my PhD studies staring at a computer screen trying to understand why something hasn’t worked, or what’s caused the results you have in front of you. It’s always a relief when you work it out and then you have a good reason to get out of the office and talk to people about what you’ve found – good or bad!

What’s your advice to students?

Rocks are everywhere. If you want to travel, study rocks. They influence our lives in every way imaginable. There is a saying “what can’t be farmed must be mined,” however, due to population growth, we now apply a lot of fertiliser to our crops to get the food we need. Those fertilisers wouldn’t be possible without rocks either!


  1. Tony

    Hi Chris, as a Devonian who dabbles in the idea of doing a PhD, and with a past in mineral exploration, I really enjoyed your piece. I’m not sure whether the current prices justify exploration, but if you can establish greater extent at depth hopefully there is potential for a UK mining revival. Good luck with your work.

  2. Hardy Nkodia

    Thanks, for your sharing and good luck!
    In which tectonic regime are you working on ?

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