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Personal profile


Member of the Royal Society of Biology

Research Statement

Over a 16-year career, starting with a PhD at Queen’s University, Belfast (2006-2010), I have developed a portfolio of skills in chronology, stepped-combustion (SC) 14C, and RPO, plus an in-depth understanding of carbon cycling in terrestrial and aquatic areas. The focus of my PhD was to correct the freshwater reservoir age offset (FRO) and improve chronology for investigating past environments and archaeological settlements near rivers and lakes. My work determined there was too much variability to accurately produce a regional/global FRO correction1 and this 14C variation resulted from fluctuating allochthonous (terrestrial) carbon inputs from the catchment to the foodweb, an insight recognised from my ecological knowledge. This discovery had a significant impact on archaeological and palaeoecological fields and its publication1 is seminal in 14C research (over 125 citations, >10 per year). This transformed freshwater chronology, determining that chronologies can only be  constructed by analysing terrestrial material, or by pairing freshwater and terrestrial samples to obtain accurate dates for individual sites. My work is multi-disciplinary, important to palaeoecology, environmental science, and archaeology.

As a post-doctoral research assistant at Queen’s (2010-11), I conceived, wrote, and was awarded a £52,752 NERC Grant (NE/I01666X/1) in 2011 as a Researcher Co-I. I used this funding to develop a new approach using 14C as a biomarker in combination with stable carbon isotopes (13C), to attribute carbon sources in freshwater systems, in order to establish the effect of catchment inputs on the foodweb in Lough Erne. Contrary to standard isotopic methods2, my novel approach was able to reveal that allochthonous carbon was a more important component of the foodweb than known. This resulted in two publications in the Radiocarbon journal3,4 , cited multiple times on a yearly basis in ecological and palaeoecological journals5. This also culminated in presentations at international 14C conferences (Radiocarbon, Paris 2012) and invited talks at the DIPPI-C Workshop (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, 2013) and the Association of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO) conference in Granada Spain (2015) and Santa Fe (2016).

I founded the Radiocarbon in the Environment Conference Series, hosting the inaugural meeting at Queen’s in 2014 with >140 delegates from >75 countries including China, Brazil, US, Canada). I presented, and edited the proceedings from this conference, which through my negotiation, formed a special issue of the Radiocarbon Journal. This conference is now a series and I have presented my research with invited talks at successive conferences (Hungary Poland). I also organised a modelling workshop, “Stable Isotope Analysis and Modelling in Freshwater Ecosystems” (2011) with R package writers Dr Andrew Jackson (Trinity College Dublin) and Andrew Parnell (University College Dublin). The workshop provided me with analytical and code training, and a venue to present my research. The workshop was attended by >30 researchers from across Europe, recorded, and accessed globally (US, China).

I was awarded a Royal Irish Academy (RIA) Charlemont grant (€2500, 2016) to fund research into SC 14C in Rostherne Mere (UK), a method that separates bulk sediment into 2 fractions based on their thermal resistance to breakdown, and used for source attribution. My SC method showed terrestrial carbon inputs and sediment accumulation increased during the period of operation of a lakeside sewage treatment plant (ST) and lowered as nutrient reduced on its closure, showing the lake captured more carbon overall when the ST was open, despite lower phytoplankton biodiversity6

I was invited to participate on a panel at the National Science Foundation sponsored RPO workshop in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (USA) and presented my research. I established a collaboration with RPO researchers who supported me to construct the RPO facility at the 14CHRONO at Queen’s. It has been in operation since 2019 and is currently the only such facility outside the USA. 

As a researcher Co-I and PI on two grants, I was responsible for managing the grant and resources, and liaising with stakeholders (Agricultural and Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Natural England) for site access. As a result of the prestige and multi-disciplinarity of my research I was elected as a member of the Royal Society of Biology and invited to present my research at New Scientists Live (2016), speaking to 1000s of attendees. I prize science communication and outreach and have been interviewed for the “Day in the life…” series in the Biologist magazine and presented my work at Soapbox Science, Belfast, several Science Festival, and Ulster Museum events. I value equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), ensuring engagement with my team and broader society is  inclusive. EDI is crucial to my “Teach the Teachers” collaboration with Stranmillis University College to bring my research to the classroom (“Impact”, Research description). To this end, I completed a Queen’s Racial Bias Workshop, spoke at diversity events to empower female researchers, and participate in a Queen’s Research and Enterprise (R&E) Directorate EDI working-group.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water
  • SDG 15 - Life on Land


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