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Student shares his rock-solid passion for geology through Curtin’s UniPASS program

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As a child, Liam Olden liked to dig up animal bones on his family’s farm in Tambellup, a small town 320km south east of Perth, and imagine they were dinosaur fossils.

Liam Olden.

Olden is now a geology honours student examining real fossils, stromatolites to be exact, which are essentially layers of rock created by bacteria that existed up to 3.5 billion years ago and comprise the earliest evidence of life on Earth.

“I’m researching stromatolites from 250 million years ago that flourished after an extinction event known as the Permian-Triassic extinction. This research aims to further our understanding of how life dealt with stressful ecological situations,” says Olden.

But researching ancient rocks is not the only interesting thing about Olden; he is sharing his knowledge and passion for all things sedimentary through his involvement in multiple extracurricular activities at Curtin.

Olden is a UniPASS facilitator, a new to Curtin mentor, a lab demonstrator, President of the Curtin University Geological Society, a student representative for the Geological Society of Australia (GSA), an Open Day geology volunteer, and a Student Ambassador for the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences. He also plays hockey for Curtin and is helping to organise WA’s first ever Earth Sciences Student Symposium for the GSA.

“It’s definitely a juggle to keep on top of everything!” admits Olden. “But my passion for geology and seeing others get excited about it is what keeps me motivated.”

Image of a stromatolite, a red, bubbly type rock.

What looks like an ordinary rock is actually 250-million-year-old fossilised bacteria.

As a UniPASS facilitator, Olden provides tutoring to fellow students on three geology units. The sessions enable students to review and consolidate their learning in informal groups and test their knowledge with a facilitator who has excelled in the degree.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping others, especially with study, as geology can be a difficult subject,” says Olden on why he joined UniPASS.

“When I see someone who doesn’t understand a concept suddenly get that ‘click’ – you can tell that they’ve got it – it’s really heartwarming.”

Olden says that being a facilitator has strengthened his own learning and introduced him to new people.

“UniPASS is like a big family, which is great, especially being from a regional area where I don’t have a lot of family close by or didn’t know many people when I first came to Perth. It provided a lot of support.”

Olden says the close-knit community of the geology department helped him to settle in to uni, and he returns the support in-kind by inspiring future students to study geology.

“I volunteered at Curtin Open Day last year and spoke with a person there who is now studying geology and comes to my UniPASS sessions. It’s really good to hear that one of the reasons they came to Curtin was because they got to meet current students and could see how we’re so keen and involved in geology.”

Olden’s passion to get others excited about rocks saw him awarded the Aniket Desai Prize in 2017 for his overall performance in his degree and his contribution to the Curtin geology community. The award is sponsored by the family of Aniket Desai, a former geology student who has sadly passed away.

“It was a great honour to receive the award. I met Aniket during my first year at Curtin and he was a really big inspiration for everyone, so it was really touching to receive the award and know I am continuing in his footsteps.”

Olden is set to complete his honours project this year, but he hopes he can continue to teach geology in some form while pursuing a PhD on stromatolites.

Visit the UniPASS website to see which Curtin undergraduate units offer group study sessions.

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