SUCCESS project profile: Diagnosing volcanic risk

The SUCCESS programme is helping social scientists transform innovative and marketable ideas into a business or social enterprise.

We spoke to Dr Andrew McGonigle (University of Sheffield) about the technology he’s developed to get inside volcanoes and how the SUCCESS programme is supporting his project.  

Q: What’s the nature of your project and what are you looking to achieve?

We have developed low cost tech for taking the pulses of active volcanoes. These units are based on adaptation of smartphone cameras, and they can see the gases come out of volcanic craters, which provides a key diagnostic of underground conditions. This technology is useful in fundamental blue sky science as well as in diagnosing volcanic risk, helping to safeguard those living in the vicinity of these hazardous targets. We now want to achieve the most widescale dissemination of these units, so that they can have the greatest possible impact.

Q: What’s your background and why did you decide to focus on this idea?

I am a physicist by background and have always been really interested in how things work. This has ranged from tinkering with electronic gadgets to fathoming the workings of the most spectacular of natural phenomena, e.g., volcanoes. I suppose I ended up joining the dots and working out how we leverage new tech to understand an ancient threat in the form of volcanic activity. I am also Scottish, so have a disposition to try and find the most economic solutions. This has led to two decades of pioneering affordable solutions to volcano monitoring challenges, which are suitable for widespread dissemination.

Q: What are you hoping to get out of the SUCCESS programme?

At the moment we have done almost all of the R&D on our technology through being contracted in by partner agencies such as NASA, and volcano observatories in South America to deliver tech for them. The question now is how do we most effectively structure forward dissemination of these units to a wider range of stakeholders, with the aim of helping them do a better job in their volcano monitoring efforts. The SUCCESS programme is focused on helping to strategise the ‘how’ of delivering the maximum possible impact in this way, and that is what I hope to achieve through this ongoing interaction.

Q: What has been the most useful part of the SUCCESS programme?

The people. There is a really brilliant mixture of participants and mentors on the programme. Rubbing shoulders with the other participants is truly inspiring, and at points overawing, in consideration of some of the really brilliant ideas they have had, and their passion and good will to deliver change on that basis. The mentors too are fabulous, providing a steady stream of support, seasoned and neutral advice as well as being very accommodating through this particularly tricky period of COVID. This advice/mentorship would cost a lot of money if you had to pay for it yourself!

Q: What have you learned through the programme that you will bring back to your research?

I think we have been very fortunate to be able to grow our activity quite organically over the last few years, based on building partnerships, securing early stage funding via various contracts and research grants, and by having the right people in the right place at the right time. The programme provides a structured means to really think through the clear practical steps required to grow this activity into an enterprise of some description. This way of thinking is equally applicable to the operations of a research team as it is to a start-up business.

Find out more about the project:

Subscribe to the Aspect newsletter to receive regular news and insight from the programme.

Photo credit: Brent Keane from Pexels

Explore more

Announcing The Social Venture Pathway

The Social Venture Pathway offers a toolkit of resources to guide you through the process of creating a social venture. This self-guided pathway aims to fill the gaps missing from traditional innovation processes by providing a clear and comprehensive training resource for starting your first social venture.

Members only

Train the Trainer 

This is an overview of the methods used to obtain relevant information for the Train the Trainer project.

Members only

Building on ABCs – Phase 3 Expansion: Creating Collaborations

Modular Knowledge-Exchange Training Course that gives insights into processes and requirements to developing business partnerships.

Should we spend more time talking about methods?

This blog by the Methods for Change team, illustrated by Jack Brougham, asks if we should spend more time talking about the methods we use as researchers. Drawing on a recent paper, we suggest that researchers need to articulate why methods matter in creating change to global challenges. We share three creative techniques that we have experimented with across the Methods for Change project that can encourage playful, reflective conversation about methods and their role in galvanising change.

Ready to join
our network?

The Aspect Network welcomes applications from like-minded organisations across the world to become members

Join us in contributing to solutions for the global challenges we encounter. Reach out to us today to discover how the Aspect Network can support you

Join us Member login