Nadine Gabriel works with fossils in the lab.

Nadine’s line of work requires her to handle fossils that are more than a million years old. Photo by Tammana Begum

Nadine Gabriel: studying 4.6 billion years of history

Nadine Gabriel is the Museum’s newest assistant curator of fossil mammals.

Coming from an ambitious family with a sibling in engineering and another in accountancy, Nadine thought she wanted to be a lawyer until she studied geography at secondary school. The course opened up to her the world of rocks, and Nadine graduated from University College London in 2017 with a first-class honours in MSci Geology.

'I enjoyed fieldwork the most,' says Nadine. 'My peers and I were lucky enough to travel to Italy, Spain, Germany and Scotland, and explore the rocks in the region. It was a real experience, digging up pieces of history and translating them into a geological map.'

Nadine volunteered at the Museum for four months prior to being taken on as an assistant curator of fossil mammals.

Her job requires her to know the vast collection she looks after inside out. She regularly assists people such as researchers and PhD students with their enquiries into the 250,000 specimens in the Museum's fossil mammal collection.

Nadine is identifying and labelling jaw bones of rodents from Madagascar. Keeping records and comparing specimens helps scientists understand ecology and evolution. Photo by Tammana Begum

 

Highlights of the collection include specimens collected during Charles Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, British Mesozoic mammals and a wide range of British Pleistocene material.

Although she is currently working with palaeontology collections, Nadine has extensive knowledge in mineralogy as she spent many years caring for the mineral collections at UCL. Her favourite mineral is quartz.

'I love how such a simple formula can produce a mineral with different forms and shapes,' says Nadine.

Made up of silicon and oxygen (SiO2), quartz is the most common and varied mineral on Earth's surface, occurring in a variety of different forms, habits and colours.

Hunter of rocks

Nadine's big passion is geology, the study of Earth itself, and its rocks and minerals. It is a vital science because it allows scientists to learn about the world's billions of years of history and to predict future patterns. This can help in solving problems such as climate change.

'Geology involves exploring the past to understand the present and predict the future,' says Nadine. 'It's not just restricted to science, either - studying geology can overlap with the study of historical events such as the development of societies, industrialisation and colonisation due to the availability of mineral and energy resources.

'It seeps into art, such as rock carving and pigments used in painting, and even spiritual beliefs. For instance, some people believe certain rocks contain healing properties or powers.'

Nadine is no stranger to publishing work. She has written several articles for the Geological Society, the Mineralogical Society and Got Science. She also delivered a year-long Twitter campaign called #365Minerals to her 4,437 followers as part of a science communication project.

Currently, Nadine is in the final stages of converting her university paper on Palaeoproterozoic stromatolites into a published scientific paper with the help of her MSci project supervisor Dominic Papineau. Her paper explores 1.9 billion year old stromatolites, giving extraordinary insight into Earth's history and geology.

The Museum has been a big influence on Nadine’s life. Photo by Tammana Begum

 

Getting into geology

Nadine has always been motivated by her curiosity and desire to learn. 'Although I initially thought I wanted to be a lawyer, I was always drawn to rocks and collected them when I was little during a visit to Sussex and in the school playground,' she shares. 'Six years ago, I visited the Museum for the first time and that was the moment I decided I wanted to work here.'

Nadine was fortunate enough to be born into a family that inspired and encouraged her to find and chase her passion. This support has been integral to her success.

Nadine advises aspiring geologists to 'actively connect with other people. Don't be afraid to make contacts, ask for advice and build a support network.'

She also suggests that those who are from an ethnic minority background join Museum Detox, an online professional support network of ethnically diverse museum workers. Other valuable networks include the Natural Sciences Collections Association and the Geological Curators' Group.

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Explore the collections

From giant fossil mammals to mysterious moths, uncover the colourful stories behind some of the Museum's most fascinating specimens.