Edition 7 - Meet Matilda Thomas


Matilda works for Geoscience Australia in the Continental Geology and Geophysics group.

What's your job title?
I'm a research geologist. We don't have many official job titles here - science roles, especially, tend to be broad and encompass a lot of different activities. My role could be more defined as "applied remote sensing, landscape and spectral geology".

Describe a typical day, week, month.
Sometimes I get out to remote locations to do field work, or visit other researchers around Australia, but typically, I sit at my computer and use special software to process and compare lots of different datasets. I use mainly remotely-sensed information (such as hyperspectral images and geophysics) to characterise landscapes, and look for interesting mineral signals. The satellite images "see" a lot more than just visible light than we can see with our eyes (i.e. red, green and blue); they also "see" in infra-red and thermal bands to identify different minerals. A lot of this work is to help find new resources, and to understand the nature and distribution of rock, soil and sediments at the surface, and how and why the landscape has changed over time.

What sort of dress code do you have to follow in your profession?
Geologists are traditionally known for a very relaxed 'dress code' ...which for some can be a Steve Irwin-esque matching khaki shirts and shorts combo - but as a public servant working in Canberra, it's fairly casual office wear. For field trips we all relish the opportunity to dig out our best flannel shirts and safety attire - steel-cap boots and hard-hats are compulsory on any mine site, and make carrying a rock hammer to work look quite respectable.

Who were your heroes when you were young?
I always liked adventure stories and books about going to interesting places. Sci-fi stories about time travel and going to other planets were always favourites. I also loved the Goodies - maybe Graham Garden was a subconscious hero? I always thought their crazy schemes and adventures were hilarious and it inspired me to explore tunnels and build secret hideouts with my friends, often in costume. We even recorded our own pirate radio show which was a lot of fun (at least for us, I'm not sure we had any listeners!). So I think the Goodies were certainly role models for my sense of humour and adventure ...maybe also to just be yourself and accept the consequences.

When did you know you wanted to work in this profession?
I mainly liked art, writing and photography at school - all the imaginative stuff. Although I liked science, woodwork and chemistry were on a clashing timetable... and I chose woodwork! After school I enrolled in graphic design, but quickly realised it was more about making corporate brands and supermarket brochures than designing album covers or being creative. I remember thinking "this is so boring - I have to do something else - what is the opposite of graphic design...?" and so I decided to go to uni to do a science degree - and loved it! When I was at school I wouldn't have thought of science as creative - but a lot of what we produce at Geoscience Australia (for example maps, webpages, science posters as well as exciting new science) is just that. So I feel like I have managed to find a really varied and interesting profession that also satisfies my imaginative/creative side.

Some advice to people who want to follow your path; what should you always do in this business?
Follow your interests - and be interested in a lot. Knowing about diverse things can help you to see links and connections that could help find new solutions and ideas. It's also important to appreciate different people and opinions - science only gets slowed-down by rigid thinking about what is "right" or everyone doing things the same way.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, with whom would it be?
I would have to say the first Martian explorers. It would be incredible to be the first people (geologists I'm sure) to walk around on a completely different world. It must have been pretty daunting for early explorers discovering new lands on earth, after months at sea, but the sky was still blue, gravity worked just the same, and the same Moon would rise each night - but Mars has two moons! The first explorers would also get to see a blue sunset - although the sky is pink during the day, the atmosphere scatters mainly blue light when the sun is low on the horizon - the opposite of what happens on Earth. And as a bonus, the Martian day is a whole 40 minutes longer, you could have a sleep-in every day, or take up a new hobby - and still have a full 24 hours left to play with!