A 14-year-old girl is watching a disaster film, but rather than being frightened, she sees a vision of her future. The 14-year-old is Ariadni Afroditi Georgatou, and the film is Dante's Peak, with former James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan in the role of volcanologist Harry Dalton. "It was actually a pretty silly film, but I thought the things the scientist did were pretty cool," reminisces Ariadni Afroditi.
This is why the daughter of a paediatrician and a gynaecologist decided to study geology in Patras. "I chose a mentor with a relatively gruff personality for my bachelor thesis. Only 3 out of 140 students opted for her. But she was phenomenal in her field, namely the combination of volcanology and mineralogy." This is a characteristic statement for Ariadni Georgatou, as she believes in a passion for a single goal is what counts, and other circumstances are purely of secondary importance. Her master thesis at the University of Geneva addressed sulphide inclusions in volcanic rocks in Ecuador. One experience was formative during this: "We didn't expect the volcano to be active, but suddenly we heard this almighty bang, we could feel the vibration and we saw this mushroom cloud of ash," she recalls. "It was terrifying for a moment, but this feeling soon dissipated again. You feel so tiny, but simultaneously gigantic."
Deep realisations through modest means
The area in which the Greek geologist researches is called magma fertility and investigates deposits and the behaviour of certain metals in magma. These metal components, including metal and sulphur compounds such as sulphides, are trapped in minerals brought upby the magma on its journey through the Earth's crust. In her dissertation, which has been awarded the Prix Schläfli, she investigated sulphides in the volcanic rocks of Nisyros on the Greek island bearing the same name. Sulphides are the most important sources of copper and other precious metals. "Ultimately, the goal of this research is not solely an academic question, but also what these metals reveal about the potential presence of ore deposits," says Georgatou.
She combined methods from volcanic petrography (or the study of rocks) with geochemistry for her dissertation. She emphasised that she was working with modest means, namely a microscope and rock samples from volcanic areas. Although this almost sounds trivial, experts regard it as remarkable. Her doctoral supervisor in Geneva, Massimo Chiaradia, was suitably impressed. "Ariadni was a pioneer in terms of research and her understanding of magmatic sulphide saturation processes. Her extremely thorough, patient and painstaking approach has earned her international recognition as one of the leading scientists in this area." She has actually succeeded in defining the physical and chemical framework conditions that indicate the presence of certain sulphides rich in metals. "The goal is to find a new instrument that determines how economically promising an area could be," she says.
Following a Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) research period in New Zealand, she now lives with her partner in Athens, working at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) with the prospect of a postdoc position. When she is not leaning over her microscope or collecting rocks, Ariadni Georgatou likes to draw and paint. "I like being creative because it gives me enormous energy," she says. Passion is her most important driving force in this respect, and this is also evident in her scientific career. On obtaining her master's degree, she had the opportunity to continue her studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. The catch here was that the scientific question was not her primary motivation. "A PhD takes at least 3 years. That's not very attractive if you become a slave to a topic that does not interest you!" She declined the offer. Her future doctoral supervisor, who had already mentored her master thesis, asked her if she was sure she wanted to take the risk. Ariadni Georgatou refused to be led astray, working in the interim at the International Labour Organization (ILO). She was able to commence her doctorate in her preferred area after a few months.
Ariadni Georgatou also radiates this confidence in her destiny or, possibly, her belief in the imperturbable power of passion during a zoom call from her apartment in Athens where she talks about the future. "If everything goes well, we'll be parents in six months." And even though her academic future in Greece is still uncertain, she refuses to worry. "I don't know yet what the solution for us is," she says. However, the professor with whom she works has promised to support her in every way. "He knows that, whatever happens, I'll persevere in my work – one way or another."