I sniff the wind then make the tea

November 18, 2005

Name: Euan G. Nisbet

Age: Able to remember the Coronation (just); and took part in the 1969 Cambridge sit-in.

Job: Geology professor at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Co-ordinator of the European Union Methane Consortium. We sniff the wind - backtracking methane isotopically to quantify sources such as Russian gas, Canadian wetlands, fires, landfills and cows. It's not just smelling humanity and trying to verify Kyoto compliance, we are also discovering marvellous things about the biosphere. Rockwise, I'm trying to figure out the very early evolution of life in the Archaean aeon. Salary: £50,000, plus fringe benefits: fieldwork and meetings with old friends.

Background: Universities of Zimbabwe and Cambridge. Mapping Greek mountains. Then Oxford, Zurich, Cambridge and Saskatchewan universities.

Working hours: 60-plus flexible hours a week. Summer is for research.

Number of students you teach: I teach about 200 students on core courses.

Biggest bugbear this year: The UK's refusal yet again to help the UN global greenhouse gas monitoring effort. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs helps, backing French and Nasa work, but the UK is the only major nation not participating properly.

How you solved it: I have given up, but the EU is supportive. Worst moment of university life: Driving a very premature baby wrapped in a sack and the 15-year-old mother in my Land Rover along a rough bush track to hospital in rural Zimbabwe a few years ago. Local maternity care, which was once superb, had collapsed. The baby died.

What is your working space like? Office bursting. Working space is the free air and the open bush.

What university facilities do you use? Electricity (often cut), roof for air inlet, internet, helpful accountants, Gondwana trees in former University of London Botanic Garden.

Do you socialise with people at the university? My wife, the boss - she is head of the geology department.

Who are the most difficult people you deal with and how do you cope with them?

The boss. I make her a pot of tea.

Best excuse for bad behaviour: "I am late for the exam because I delivered my cow's calf at 6am" - Saskatchewan.

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