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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Southampton PhD student, Laura Hepburn wins national essay competition

Published: 4 December 2013
Laura on RRS James Cook

An essay by University of Southampton, Ocean and Earth Science, PhD student Laura Hepburn has won a national short article and photography competition.

Laura Hepburn, 27 from Chandler's Ford, won the Natural Environment Research Council's (NERC) inaugural short article and photography competition and was presented with her award and £500 prize money at a special ceremony in central London yesterday.

Her winning essay details the child-like excitement she felt during a recent research voyage when she first saw underwater hydrothermal vents blowing their signature black smoke across her monitoring screens. These are underwater fissures that erupt volcanic gasses and boiling water.

Laura's essay leads the reader on a journey that begins with a young inquisitive girl at an aquarium and ends with a competent researcher feeding the curious child still inside. Her PhD explores the geochemistry of these hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean.

Laura, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, says: "I was delighted to hear my name announced as one of the NERC student photography and short article writing competition winners. In some ways I had an advantage because I adore my job and have a unique opportunity to travel and explore a magnificent part of our world normally hidden from view. The article competition was the perfect opportunity to convey my childhood passion for underwater exploration and hopefully inspire scientific interest in kids and 'big kids' alike." 

The four judges on the panel included; Jonathan Bates, Director of Communications for NERC; Harriet Jarlett, a science writer for NERC; Dr Helen Czerski, an oceanographer and TV presenter on popular science programmes; and Professor Simon Redfern.

Simon Redfern, a Professor of Mineral Physics at the University of Cambridge who has recently worked with the BBC as a British Science Association Media Fellow, said: "Laura Hepburn's essay eloquently reflects on the wonder of scientific exploration. Her description of observations of the sea floor as part of a scientific cruise to the Southern Ocean rings as an echo of her early childhood curiosity - fascination with a deep-sea world that remains, for most of us, unknown and mysterious. She sheds light on what it means to be a scientist."

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