Through Lightning and Landslides: Women in Earth Science

This summer’s Geology Interns were given the opportunity to create an exhibition in the foyer of the Irvine Building (home to the School of Geography and Sustainable Development). This blog post is written by one of the interns, Zoe Voice, who talks us through what they put together – ‘Through Lightning and Landslides: Women in Earth Science’.

When Sally and I were given the opportunity to create a four shelved, very official-looking glass cabinet display for the foyer of the Irvine Building it was safe to say the pressure was on. As part of our 6-week Geology Collections Internship with MUSA we were charged with designing something that would be displayed for a year; and it could be about anything. Well, okay, it did have to be connected to rocks. But still, a pretty broad scope.

In the end, we decided to call to attention some of the fantastic women to have passed through the faculty and student body since the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences was established in 1903. Bearing in mind the only experience we’d had of museum displays was looking at them from behind glass, we were more than a bit clueless – and thrilled to get stuck in! So, without further ado, we are pleased to present a sneak preview of ‘Through Lightning and Landslides: Women in Earth Science’.

Geology Cabinet 5

Starting from the bottom up, shelf four focused on four historical figures. These women  did not attend our university but are responsible for paving the way for female involvement in the field. Mary Anning, the most well-known of the shelf, was interested in fossils. From finding the first complete ichthyasaur skeleton to discovering that ‘bezoar stones’ were fossilised faeces, her contributions were significant. Her life was certainly far from boring; she was struck by lightning as a child and lost her trusty canine companion, Tray, in a landslide. This inspired our display’s title – a way of calling to attention the lengths people go to for their passions, even if they do not receive full credit during their lifetime.

Geology Cabinet

For each woman we ‘dug up’ similar samples to the ones they would have handled, and wrote c.100 words summarising work. For Mary we found a fantastic sample of an ichthyasaur’s jaw – teeth and all!

Shelf three was about early female involvement in St Andrews, namely Roberta McIntosh who illustrated natural sciences texts and Dr. Ruth Robinson. Ruth was the first female lecturer of Geology, appointed in 1999. Luckily for us, she retired in 2017 so we managed to include a sample she collected herself of preserved ripples (like that you can see in sand on a beach) from California, dated to about 500 million years ago, as well as some photos of her in the field.

The second shelf was perhaps our favourite. It focused on the alumni of the school from 1970-90s, of which there are some very impressive names. Picture this: you’ve just graduated, you fly to Australia, and within a few years you discover the largest known diamond deposit in the world. Yes please! The Argyle diamond deposit in West Kimberly was found by Maureen Muggeridge, who graduated in the early 1970s. We couldn’t resist buying a huge (fake) diamond to put in the cabinet. Secondly, we have to mention Dr. Caroline Smith, the head curator of meteorites at the Natural History Museum. Caroline is an outstanding researcher in her field, and recently had the honour of having an asteroid named after her. We managed to hunt down a meteorite in the depths of the Irvine Building to add to our display.

Geology Cabinet 1

The top shelf was for contemporary researchers and lecturers. We asked each of them to tell us where their interests lie, and how they think Earth Science will develop in 20 years. Dr. Aubrey Zerkle and Dr. Catherine Rose were generous enough to donate some of their stromatolites – layers of cyanobacteria which are thought to be the oldest photosynthesising organism. Aubrey’s sample is about 2.5 billion year’s old, and over time some of the layers have been replaced with pyrite (fool’s gold), giving it a gorgeous golden sheen.

Geology Cabinet 2

The display opened on 27th July, the last day of our internship. We’re both incredibly proud of what we achieved with this cabinet and we’re confident it’ll bring attention to the excellent standard this school achieves. Above all, we hope it’ll inspire the current and incoming women in Earth Science at St. Andrews. Pop along the Irvine Building to take a look!

We’d like to extend a massive thank you to Stuart Allison as the head of Geology Collections, Jess Burge at MUSA and everyone who responded, donated and helped to make us pull this display together.


If you want to visit the exhibition, but don’t know where to find the Irvine Building, please follow this link for directions:

About Zoe Voice

Zoe is an Undergraduate Art History student at St Andrews, particularly interested in religious art and architecture, and hopes to go into a career in museum collections care and restoration. Aside from that Zoe loves reading, cooking and travelling; recently returning from a summer trip around Scandinavia.



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