James Hickey

Can't believe I won! Thanks to all who voted! :D

Favourite Thing: Watching eruptions and playing with expensive equipment on big, active volcanoes – I’m still a kid at heart!



St. Bonifaces College, Plymouth: 1999 – 2006 | University of Bristol: 2007 – Now


11 GCSE’s | AS-Levels: Physics & History | A-Levels: Maths, Chemistry & Geography | Degree: Environmental Geoscience

Work History:

An activity leader for a language school | A chef | A cocktail barman | A waiter | A promo-guy for Nokia

Current Job:

I’m now a PhD student – so that means I study volcanoes and help teach the younger students


The University of Bristol

Me and my work

I’m a volcano doctor – by taking a volcano’s pulse I try to find out if it’s going to vomit lava or explode with gas!

I’m currently studying for a volcanology PhD – this means I study and learn new things about volcanoes, often things that no one else has ever thought about before! This is one of the best bits about being a scientist.

Everyone knows how amazing and exciting volcanoes can be (you just have to do a quick google search to find awesome eruption photos), but they are also deadly! This is why it’s important that people like myself study them – at the end of the day we want to make volcanoes safer places for the people living around them.

My studies are based on working out how and why volcanoes move or ‘breathe’ before they erupt. When we can better understand this we can use it to help predict when eruptions might happen. This means we will be able to evacuate people and protect property, saving lives in the process.

I also write for a blog and tweet if you want to know more about the work my friends and I do (though I will say sorry now as there are probably some quite complicated words in there!). Or you can read about how I will spend the money if I win and maybe we’ll be able to come and tell you all about volcanoes :D.


My Typical Day

My days are very varied, so a ‘typical’ day would depend on whether I’m out visiting a volcano or based back in University.

Work as a volcanologist is awesome! I like how each day can be very different, but that also makes answering this question very hard…

Studying volcanoes usually requires going into the ‘field’ and collecting data. The ‘field’ is just the word we use for work that is based outside and you can see some example photos below. In the ‘field’ a ‘typical’ day rarely goes to plan so we have to be flexible, but this also makes the work more exciting! We collect data about all different aspects of the volcano that we then take back home with us to look at in more detail. Fieldwork is my favourite part of the job, I love being outside at the mercy of mother nature.

When I’m back in Bristol and based at University I spend my time looking at the data we have collected in the field and trying to better understand it. But this is often broken up by other tasks that make the day more fun. This could be helping to teach the younger students, going to talks and lectures, presenting my work to others or simply talking about science over a coffee. My friend and I made a short video to show just how variable our work is (I even have a little appearance at 14 seconds showing my days work):

What I'd do with the money

I would set up ‘Volcano Days’ for school students to learn about different aspects of volcanoes, including a big experiment to demonstrate how volcanoes ‘breathe’ and an eruption role play exercise! –> Maybe YOUR school could get involved!

‘Volcano Days’ would be the perfect opportunity for enthusiastic school students (like yourselves!) to come and learn more about volcanoes, or for us to bring the ‘volcanoes’ to you. This is something I wish I could have done when I was at school.

In full or half-day sessions we would run a series of varying experiments and demonstrations to show how different parts of volcanoes work, like the famous Coke and Mentos reaction:

I would also build a brand new experiment! This would be used to show how volcanoes ‘breathe’ when new magma is pushed into the Earth beneath them.

Then we would finish the day with a role-play game… If you are in charge when a volcano is threatening to erupt, how would you react?! This sort of exercise is also carried out by the ‘experts’ so it would be interesting to see how you compare.


My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Friendly, funny, sporty

Who is your favourite singer or band?

This depends on the moment – it changes between all sorts, like Imagine Dragons, Disclosure, Bastille, Macklemore etc…

What's your favourite food?

Chicken, pizza, pasta, roast dinner, I don’t know… I just LOVE food :D

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I’ve been all over the world looking at volcanoes or just travelling, but if I had to pick one thing it would be cycling down the ‘world’s most dangerous road’ in Bolivia!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to study volcanoes (we can all follow our dreams).

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Oh yes! Usually for talking too much, or questioning what the teachers had to say – I’m sure they actually enjoyed it though…

What was your favourite subject at school?

Geography – I loved learning about volcanoes, earthquakes and hurricanes! But I’ve since learned that you need science skills to really understand these things :)

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

In July I travelled to Japan to talk about volcanoes and was lucky enough to be stood on a volcano when it erupted! AMAZING!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My teachers – they always encouraged me to keep asking questions and I still have so many unanswered!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A spy, like James Bond!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) To be able to sing. 2) To travel to the North Pole, South Pole, highest mountain and deepest ocean. 3) To get a volcano job on a beautiful, sunny island

Tell us a joke.

What did the boy volcano say to the girl volcano? I lava you…

Other stuff

Work photos:

When I’m based at University doing research, my office looks like any other…(except it does have a hammock!)


But when I’m out on volcanoes collecting data my ‘office’ transforms into a much more interesting place…

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Those are two pictures from an eruption I saw while in Japan.

I have also worked on a ‘supervolcano’ in Bolivia. This is the equipment I carried around to see if the volcano was ‘breathing’:


When it’s set up it looks like this:


Luckily, a lot of volcanoes are in quite exotic places. Fieldwork in the Caribbean is a definite perk of the job. Here I am on the island of Dominica which has LOTS of volcanoes (and curious school students…):


And this is a photo I took in Montserrat, which has been devastated by a series of big eruptions. The helicopter has to keep running in case the volcano comes into life again and we have to get out of the way really quickly!


Despite all the amazing places, fieldwork can be quite tiring. So we always try and squeeze in some free time, this way we can cover ourselves in volcanic mud in Dominica…


…or visit an animal sanctuary in Bolivia…


And then we can do cool experiments to get new people interested in volcanoes – like this one of an exploding Coke bottle which you could do if I win. Look at the size of the eruption!