The Student Opportunity Fund at Edge Hill University is an exciting initiative which contributes financial support that helps students take part in activities which enhance employability, build confidence and develop transferable skills. Over Summer 2021, BSc Geography students, Molly Jackman and Natasha Jones conducted laboratory work for Dr Joanne Egan on her research project entitled: “Advancing Tephrochronology in Pacific Northwest of North America”.

Natasha (left) and Molly (right) performing density separate on sediment samples to separate the cryptotephra from other materials within the sample.

Natasha (left) and Molly (right) performing density separate on sediment samples to separate the cryptotephra from other materials within the sample.

This project proposes the analysis and compilation of highly valuable tephrochronological data (volcanic ash used as a marker for determining the age of geological sediments) from lake sediment cores collected from Washington, USA in 2014. The analysis will expand current knowledge of volcanic ash extent, eruption frequency and magnitude during the Holocene (last 10,000 years). Most importantly for the geochronological scientific community, this research will refine the age of tephra deposits, which can be subsequently used as geochronological markers in future environmental reconstructions. Currently, there is a lot of discrepancy and missing data within American tephrochronology.

Natasha and Molly applied for their hourly paid Research Assistant roles in May, which was funded by Edge Hill’s Student Opportunity Fund. Both students spent six weeks in our Geoscience state of the art laboratories, sampling sediment cores from North America and performing various complex procedures on the samples to try and locate volcanic ash (also known as Tephra). Tephra that is invisible to the naked eye is called cryptotephra, and it was their task to try and find some!

The laboratory analyses consist of identifying tephra (volcanic ash) within the lake sediment core spanning the last 10,000 years (this is what Molly and Natasha were doing), determining its source through geochemical analysis involving microprobe analysis and utilising Radiocarbon Dating techniques to determine the age of the deposit.


Dr Joanne Egan - Senior Lecturer in Physical Geography

Dr Joanne Egan said:

Working with Natasha and Molly has been an absolute pleasure. They are both excellent students and during their interview it was clear that they had a passion for the subject, laboratory work and research. Molly and Natasha remained professional throughout the post and have shown a great level of enthusiasm and initiative. The Research Assistant post was funded by the Student Opportunity Fund at Edge Hill University. Not only was this a nice little earner for the students, but this will be a great addition to their CV! I cannot recommend enough that students take the time to look at what opportunities are available through the Student Opportunity Fund. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Natasha and Molly and it will be sad to see their time come to an end.


Molly standing in front of a beautiful bay during her second year fieldtrip to Mallorca

Molly said:

I am extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to work as a Research Assistant within the Geosciences laboratory. Most importantly it has given me the experience and the skills in working as part of a research team alongside Joanne and Natasha and not only that it will enhance my level of employability. As a recent graduate, I feel that this position has been perfect in giving me the knowledge about the huge amount of work that goes into research and that it has given me the confidence to apply for graduate schemes within this sector. Across the two-month period that this position ran, I have learnt so much about working in a laboratory environment and the extensive processes required in extracting cryptotephra from the lake sediment cores. I would like to thank Joanne and the Geosciences department for giving me this amazing and enjoyable opportunity and I would highly recommend that everyone should consider applying for a Student Opportunity Fund within their department at university!


Natasha standing in front of a beautiful bay during her second year fieldtrip to Mallorca

Natasha said:

I am very grateful of the opportunity to have worked for Joanne as a Research Assistant for the past 2 months. As soon as I saw the post advertising this role I knew I wanted to apply, as it would give me the essential experience needed for a future career in the environmental sector. Although the position was only for 2 months, I feel as though my laboratory knowledge and experience, as well as my analytical and teamworking skills has grown so strong and will definitely make my CV more competitive in the employment market. I have genuinely enjoyed working for Joanne and under the supervision of Rob and Kathy, learning new skills every week and having a lot of laughter along the way. This is certainly a position that has opened up a lot of doors for my future career and has given me the confidence as a graduate to apply for roles in a similar area. I highly recommended any students to take full advantage of the Student Opportunity Fund as it has been nothing but a valuable and enjoyable experience.

Molly and Natasha have now graduated with 1st class degrees – Congratulations!!

We wish them both the best of luck in whatever they pursue in the future!

If you would like to be part of a Geography and Geology department that places high value on ensuring students are ready for the workplace, with research led teaching at its core, you can view more about our courses here: