What lies beneath

Christopher George Galley came to Memorial because it has one of the best inversion modelling research groups in Canada. Now that he is here, he is making himself at home, working full-time on his PhD in geophysics while competing as a varsity athlete in cross-country running and wrestling. Christopher's research specializes in inversion modelling method development and the modelling of seafloor massive sulphide deposits, which will have useful applications in mineral exploration as well as contribute to future technological advancement in the field.

Where are you from?
I grew up in Ottawa, Ont.

Are you the first person in your family to go to grad school? If so, how did that shape your graduate experience?
I am not the first, none of my grandparents went to grad school, but both my parents and older brother have their PhDs.

Where, and in what area, did you do your undergraduate or previous graduate work?
My previous degree was a B.Sc. in physics, with a minor in mathematics, from the University of Victoria in British Columbia.

Why did you choose to pursue a graduate or postdoctoral degree?
Graduate degrees are the natural and necessary stepping stones between a bachelor’s degree and a career as a researcher. Over the course of my undergraduate I worked five work terms, mainly doing field-based work at first to get a foundation of experience, then ending in purely academic positions. I found that very early on in my work terms I was happiest and most driven when it came to conducting research style experiments and/or studies. Therefore, by the end of my undergraduate I was very confident that I wanted to attend graduate school and continue in academia.

Why did you choose Memorial for graduate studies?
Memorial University has a strong geophysical inversion modelling research group, which led me to apply here. Memorial was recommended to me by a previous supervisor from when I worked at GEOMAR, an ocean science institute in Germany. I wanted to enter the field of inversion modelling coming out of undergrad, specifically inverting potential and electromagnetic data — Memorial and University of British Columbia are the top two schools in Canada for that.

What is your degree program and area of specialization?
I am currently working on my PhD in geophysics, with a specialization in inversion modelling method development, as well as the modelling of seafloor massive sulphide deposits. Inversion modelling is a tool we can use to take survey data collected on the surface of the Earth and use it (invert it) to produce three dimensional models of targets, such as ore bodies, in the subsurface. Seafloor massive sulphide deposits are mineral deposits that form on, or very near, the seafloor, making them difficult to study and inversion modelling an excellent tool for predicting their geometries.

Why did you choose this area of study?
Leaving undergrad, with a foundational knowledge in physics and math, I became very interested in using theory to generate models which explain the natural systems I encounter in the world. Specifically, I found the modelling of magnetic and electromagnetic systems, from a mathematical stand point, really fun. Geophysics is filled with such systems, and as an area of study it has allowed me to travel a lot, and still be able to be a grunt from time to time doing field work in the bush.

How would you describe your experience as a graduate student at Memorial?
It has been great. I participate pretty heavily in varsity athletics, competing for Memorial's cross-country running and wrestling teams, so the flexibility the graduate life offers I think is just perfect, and probably necessary for me to keep up all my extracurricular activities.

What is your research/thesis about? What is the goal of your research? What are the implications of your research project for the province, the country and the world?
My thesis is mainly focusing on the development of the geophysical inversion method. Inversion modelling is a process where you take a set of measurements (magnetic field data, gravitational acceleration, etc.), feed that into the inversion program and it will spit out a model of the anomaly that is creating the signal you observed. This is a useful tool in mineral exploration because with the data collected walking above ground (or above the seafloor) one can create a three-dimensional approximation of the ore body beneath them. The first half of my PhD has been spent developing some of the code of a new inversion program, and create magnetic models of seafloor massive sulphide deposits to try and remotely determine their size and shape. The second half of the degree will be on coding up an electromagnetic method for this inversion program, allowing conductivity models of these seafloor deposits to be built, better mapping out the ore held within them.

Now, as far as my focus on modelling seafloor massive sulphide systems: 1) they are these really cool, observably growing mineral deposits found in very remote environments, i.e. kilometres below the ocean's surface; and 2) they are valuable sources of mineral resources and offer an advantageous focus for technological advancement. Primarily, this development is in the construction of autonomous or remotely operated mining vehicles that can work in intense pressures, and far from human aid.

My research in itself is not helping with any form of technological development, or really the mining of these deposits, but I believe it's important in science to extrapolate the impact of your research to ensure it is for a cause you agree with, and one that is in the end useful. I believe mining the seafloor is the lesser of the two evils with respect to mining aquatically versus terrestrially, but more importantly it will bring us closer to mining outside of our planet. Although far in the future it will be a necessary step forward for us if we continue to live on a world of finite resources (not to mention ceasing mining on Earth would be fantastic for the environment), so why not start planning for it now?

Why did you choose this research question/topic?
I wished to study inversion modelling because it is a very powerful modelling tool that I wanted to be proficient with and help develop.

How do you work with your supervisor? Does your work involve other students?
I have a really good working relationship with both of my supervisors, Colin Farquharson and John Jamieson. They are laid back, allowing me lots of space to work independently while being always available to answer a question, or lend a hand. I do not work much with any other students just because I work entirely off my computer and not in any kind of lab, but I collaborate a lot with Colin’s research associate.

Have you won any recent awards/honours?
This year I was awarded the KEGS Pioneer Scholarship, by the Canadian Exploration Geophysics Society (KEGS). Additionally, I have won funding the past two years to attend the Society of Exploration Geophysicists (SEG) Annual Meeting conference in Houston, Texas (2017) and Anaheim, Calif. (2018) to attend their Student Leadership Symposium (SLS) and Student Education Program (SEP), respectively. At the SLS short course I represented Memorial University’s SEG Student Chapter as their president and was able to collaborate with other chapter representatives from around the world.

Are there any difficulties in life that you have overcome to pursue graduate studies?
I don’t think I have. I have been very lucky, and privileged I think, in life. I haven’t had any particular challenges to overcome to make my way to grad school other than those everyone faces at university.

What are you planning to do after you complete your degree?
I am still in love with the academic life style. I get to spend every day learning, and exploring the things I’m most curious about. I find it hard to believe sometimes I’m paid, and could continue to get paid, to do this. After my PhD I plan on completing a number of post-doctoral positions, and eventually make my way to a permanent position at a university or research institute.

Do you have any advice for current and/or future graduate students?
Grad school is, while still a degree, much more like a job than it is school. As such, I would recommend grad students to try and maintain a healthy work-life balance, and not fill too many evenings and weekends with study. In contrast to undergrad, grad work is much more about quality, rather than quantity, so I have found I work best and produce the most when I only give myself an allotted seven or eight hours a day to do my research, a sort of nine-to-five schedule. A lot of research relies on creativity, so the more free time you give your mind to explore new ideas, without having it under stress, the more novel and comprehensive I believe your work will become. Not to mention you’ll just be happier, and no work on the long term is sustainable unless you’re happy doing it.

Become a graduate student at Memorial. Apply online today!