NAME: Marco Knüver
TITLE: PhD Student
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Volcanology & Experimental Petrology Short-term magma wall-rock interactions and their effects on eruption dynamics
YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 3
PhD Student (since 2019) – University of Bari, Italy
M.Sc. Geochemistry and Geomaterials – LMU Munich, Germany
B.Sc. Earth Sciences – LMU Munich, Germany
What’s your job like?
My job concerns the research of magma ascent dynamics and how interactions with the surrounding country rocks may influence it. I am focusing on interactions that happen during or ultimately prior to an eruption. So we are speaking of very short-term interactions (seconds to maybe hours). Of special interest here are the kinds of country rocks that are able to release volatile gases like H2O and CO2 (like for example limestones). An increase in these volatile phases can cause an increase in eruption explosivity (and is in discussion to be one of the causes for the transition of the eruptive style from effusive to explosive). In terms of hazard assessment, it’s therefore crucial to understand these interactions (and especially the timescales of the involved physical and chemical processes) better.
What’s a typical day like?
Luckily I have no such thing as a typical day. It’s hugely dependent on what there is to do. I might spend my day doing fieldwork in beautiful volcanic regions like Vesuvius or the Eolian Islands, or the laboratory at the University of Perugia conducting experiments, or analysing the results of these experiments with some fancy apparatus [in my case mostly Micro Computed-Tomography (Micro-CT) and scanning electron microscope (SEM)], or writing up all of my findings and therefore spending the whole day in front of my laptop (either at home or at university). Not to forget all the (online) conferences, webinars and video calls with co-supervisors. Nevertheless, I try to keep some structure in my days.
I try to start working no later than 8 in the morning. Since most of the other researchers here start at 9 or even later the “early start” gives me at least one very quiet and productive hour in the morning. Around 11, the PhD students here try to take a coffee break together (sometimes more successful, sometimes less), and we usually have lunch together at 1pm. The afternoons hugely vary and depending on how productive I am that specific day, I call it a day somewhere between 5 and 7pm.
Besides the bureaucracy, actually everything! I’m just really fascinated by volcanoes in general and really want to understand every aspect of how they work. So to have the chance to actually work in volcanology is a dream come true for me. But if I would have to choose, I would say it’s definitely the experimental work. My experiments are in some way super simple but also super interesting. And if I explain to my non-geologist friends what I’m doing, they usually are either envious or don’t believe that this is actual science. I usually say: “I’m melting rocks (pumices of specific eruptions) just to push other rocks (rocks of the basement below the volcanic edifice) into that melt and see what happens.” Of course its a bit more organised than in this non-scientific explanation.
Of course during a PhD you have to learn a lot of new things in depth. If its concepts, you have to learn how to model things or how to use an apparatus. That can be challenging sometimes, but I think it’s something every PhD student runs into. For me personally, the most challenging thing was and is the COVID-19 pandemic. All the travel bans and university regulations made it quite hard to plan my project, and in the end, I lost a significant amount of time. So yeah, time is an issue now.
What’s your advice to students?
Well, I always find it hard to give advice to students I don’t know. Everyone has a different background and made different experiences. The only thing I would say is: take breaks when you need them.