Education / Events

National Schools Geology Challenge and Early Career Geologist Award Finals 2016

Prizes (2)On 25th April the Geological Society hosted the fifth and largest ever National Schools Geology Challenge and Early Career Geologist Finals at Burlington House. The day brought together a record eight school teams and six young geoscientists, each representing a different Regional Group, to present their topic of choice to our panel of four judges from industry and academia. The winner of each competition would walk away with the coveted geode trophy!

In the Schools Challenge, teams of up to six pupils (mostly sixth formers) prepared a poster for display in the Lower Library, delivered a 5 minute presentation and answered questions from judges on their chosen topic. If that wasn’t daunting enough, they also took on a 75 question quiz!


A selection of posters submitted by the school teams. Clockwise from top left: Beauchamp College, Whitchurch High School, Wells Cathedral School and Methodist College Belfast.

Finalists of the Early Careers Award gave a 10 minute presentation on a subject related to their work, and answered questions from the judges, that the mostly school-age audience would be able to understand.

The Judges

Standing between the finalists and the trophies were the four judges: Professor Nick Rogers of the Open University; Dr Isobel Sides of geological consultancy Neftex/Haliburton; Pete Loader, chief examiner for WJEC Geology and Dr Sarah Dodd from Imperial College London’s Earth Science and Engineering Department.

The finalists qualified by progressing from local heats organised by the Regional Groups. School teams and Early Career finalists came from all over the UK including as far afield as Cardiff, Sheffield and even Belfast! Here is the complete list of all the finalists:


The judges. From background to foreground: Nick Rogers, Sarah Dodd, Isobel Sides and Pete Loader.

National Schools Geology Challenge:

  • Altrincham Boys Grammar School
  • Aylesbury Grammar School
  • Beauchamp College (Leicester)
  • Bishop Wordsworth’s Grammar School and South Wilts Grammar School Joint Team (Salisbury)
  • Methodist College Belfast
  • Sheffield High School
  • Wells Cathedral School
  • Whitchurch High School (Cardiff)

Early Career Geologist Award:

  • Matthew Ascott (BGS, Oxford)
  • Dominic Hagues (Mott Macdonald, Bristol)
  • Angela Hillman (Atkins, Leeds)
  • Rhian Lynes (Structural Soils, Bristol)
  • Ashley Patton (BGS, Cardiff)
  • Thomas Townsend (AECOM, Birmingham)

The event, as usual, was expertly led by Paul Maliphant from the South Wales Regional Group who was instrumental in transforming the competition from a local event into the current national competition five years ago. The day was split into 3 sessions with alternating school teams and Early Career presentations, followed by the quiz round. A new quiz format allowed all attendees, including teachers, supporters, early career finalists and a few Society staff members to take part. The results were very interesting!

Paul Maliphant

Paul Maliphant (left) fielding questions for Aylesbury Grammar School

The Results: National Schools Geology Challenge

The standard of both posters and presentations was exceptionally high this year. Topics ranged from the importance of water in geological processes, to meteor airbursts, moonquakes and diamonds. The teams also responded with excellent to answers to some tricky questions from the judges. The quiz round proved to be yet more challenging! Teams struggled on rounds involving geosites from the USA and historically important geoscientists, but impressed with their answers to the “geology in the movies” and 30 question “quick-fire” sections (this can be found in a previous blog post).

School Winners

The winning school teams with Sarah Fray. Top: overall winners Altrincham Boys Grammar School, bottom left: presentation winners Wells Cathedral School and bottom right: poster winners Methodist College Belfast.

The overall winners were Altrincham Boys Grammar School with their topic, diamonds. As well as their trophy, all members of the team were awarded Candidate Fellowship for a year and a bespoke Society USB hammer.

The judges also awarded the presentation prize to Wells Cathedral School for their presentation on the importance and uses of fossils, and the poster prize to Methodist College Belfast for their topic on meteor airbursts. The latter two schools also obtained the joint highest marks in the quiz. However, they were no match for the team of teachers who answered all but one of the 75 questions correctly!

The Results: Early Career Geologist Award

We were treated to a set of excellent presentations from the finalists, most with a strong engineering geology focus. Topics included tunnelling on the London Crossrail project, sharing geotechnical data and the build-up of anthropogenic nitrate.

Following deliberations the judges awarded the prize to Angela Hillman, with her topic of the geotechnical challenges of reconstructing a Victorian bridge.

Early Careers

Left: Angela Hillman receiving her geode trophy from Sarah Fray. Right: Early Career Geologist finalists (from left to right): Matthew Ascott, Ashley Patton, Thomas Townsend, Dominic Hagues, Angela Hillman and Rhian Lynes.

Everybody at the Geological Society would like to thank Paul Maliphant and the four judges for helping to run such a successful event. We also extend our thanks to all the Early Career Finalists, the school teams and their accompanying teachers for all their hard work and for their attendance. Now to begin work on next year’s event!

If you are a school teacher or pupil or an active geoscientist with less than 10 years work experience and would like to find out how to enter the 2017 competitions, please visit the website or email Humphrey Knight for more information.

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