On the Tarmac

On the Tarmac: a brief report of the EAG ‘Distinguished’ Lecture Tour of Eastern Europe 2012

I was both delighted but surprised when I was asked to be the EAG Distinguished Lecturer in Eastern Europe. Distinguished is not an adjective that has ever been closely associated with my activities. However, on contemplation of the broader meaning of the word, I did feel I might be up to the job of giving some talks that could easily be distinguished from those others might give. So I accepted the job. It also struck me that given the amount of international travel involved in modern academia, I had spent remarkably little time in the eastern part of my home continent. This was something to rectify and if coupled with some modest geochemical proselising might pass for work.


Unfortunately, my commitments of lecturing closer to home, in what transpired to be a packed autumn term, meant my eventual trip was rather more rushed that I would have liked. There was not to be the meandering, Tokai-sipping cruise down the Danube that I had initially conjured in my imagination. Instead, I became a temporary authority on flight connections in Eastern Europe and packed 4 cities and 6 talks into 6 days. I did briefly worry that I would, Bush-like, get confused as to which country I was in by day 2. I’m pleased to report this was never close to happening in the distinct and varied settings through which I passed.

My Odyssey started in a chilly, misty Warsaw. My host was Prof. Ewa Slaby (University of Warsaw and Polish Academy of Sciences), who brought to life the complexities of Polish history in a fascinating trip around the sights of the city. In dubious return, I presented two talks the next day at the University of Warsaw. I was very pleased to be able to present to a large group of students in one of these talks, who graciously smiled through my trying to find the right balance on the first airing of my presentation. I was even further rewarded with a group-signed memento of my visit.


It’s Tuesday, so it must be Wroclaw. I was the guest of the Department of Experimental Petrology in the University of Wroclaw, housed atmospherically in weathered Bauhaus splendour on the banks of the Oder. Dr. Anna Pietranik ably co-ordinated my trip and rallied a full house for my talk. There was time for me enjoy a stroll through the gnome-strewn charms of central Wroclaw and be back to hunker down with the members of the Department for a perfect evening of tales, food and beverages.

A miraculously waiting cab outside the institution’s gates in the pre-dawn dark, conjured up images of cold-war spy films in my sadly clichéd mind. These rapidly evaporated in the glowing, modern blaze of Wroclaw’s impressive airport, as I set off for my next stop, Sofia. Bulgaria held a deal of intrigue for me and I was not disappointed with what awaited. I arrived in time to give a late afternoon presentation in the magnificent, NeoBaroque home of the Faculty of Geology and Geography, located in the heart of the city. My host, Dr. Momchil Dyulgerov, then showed me around the landmarks of the city centre, which bustled with life in the still balmy November evening. I had not expected the feel of a Mediterranean promenade in the late autumn of Bulgaria, but I guess such discoveries are what makes travelling such a pleasure.


Sadly my relentless schedule drove me on the next morning; a flight over the mountains to Bucharest and straight on to Cluj-Napoca. The first leg of this trip found me in a plane largely occupied by the entourage of Macy Gray and indeed the singer herself. Clearly the EAG were not the only people to think a November tour of Eastern Europe a good idea. I noted, however, that the level of logistical support offered to a ‘Distinguished’ Lecturer was considerably less than that of an internationally-renown chanteuse.

This was, in fact, not my first visit to the Romanian second city and I had previously passed through on a family caravanning holiday in the early seventies, as one does. Suffice to say I did not have strong recollections of the city’s layout and was pleased to make its reacquaintance. Dr. Dan Nita was my valiant guide and navigated me between the Faculties of Environmental Science and Geology of the Babes-Bolyai University, where I was warmly received by Prof. Alenxdru Ozunu and Dr. Nicolae Har respectively. It seemed quite appropriate for an EAG speaker to visit a city where Earth Science interests are represented in not just one but two institutes. I was glad of the opportunity to give talks in both and enjoyed a brief glimpse of the lively ambiance of the city in the intervening evening.


Amazingly, my timetable, horribly prone to the vagaries of transport, had gone to plan for the whole week. This was bound to end eventually, but fortunately not until my speaking commitments were done.  “Fog bound in Transylvania” is the sort of scenario designed to send shivers down the spines of Western Europeans who buy into the Bram Stoker myth. More prosaically, this led to nothing more traumatic than delays, rerouting and an unavoidable over-night in Bucharest airport.


I am very grateful for the great hospitality afforded to me during my week of distinction and also the kind interest shown in the abstruse brand of isotope geochemistry I peddle. It was wonderful opportunity for me to learn about places I feel I should know much better and I hope in small part I returned the favour with spot of isotopic titillation. As a footnote, I have to admit that, as a card-carrying vegetarian, I had been filled with worries of having to endlessly decline pork and dumpling dishes. Contrary to my ill-founded prejudices, I dined meat-free with ease, taste and diversity, never once having to turn down the offer of suety balls.

About the author

Tim Elliott is Professor at the School of Earth Sciences of the University of Bristol, UK.
His research focuses on the chemical evolution of the Earth. As such he is interested in planetary formation and differentiation, sampling of the hidden Earth via melts, interaction of the deep and surface reservoirs and how this has influenced the terrestrial environment.


His tools of choice are dominantly isotopic, in tandem with elemental abundance measurements and judicious application of petrology and fieldwork. He has developed measurements of novel isotopic systems and is enthused by the new vistas of isotopic determination offered by plasma mass-spectrometry.

About the EAG Distinguished Lecture Program

The Distinguished Lecture Program was started in 2011 and it currently focuses on Central and Eastern Europe. This program aims to introduce and motivate scientists and students located in under-represented regions of the world to emerging research areas in geochemistry. Tim Elliott, Distinguished Lecturer 2012, proposed lectures on ‘The Origin of Precious Metals on Earth’ and ‘Tracing mantle evolution with novel isotopic systems’.


In 2011, Karim Benzerara, CNRS and University Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, was the EAG Distinguished Lecturer.