Meet Marlène Villeneuve

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Job: 

Rock Engineer.

Job description: 

Deforming and breaking rocks to understand how strong they are.

Work background: 

Before working at the University, I worked as a tunnelling engineer all over the world helping to design and build giant tunnels in rock.

Favourite part of job: 

Travelling to cool places to collect neat rocks so I can figure out how strong they are for building things like tunnels and geothermal power plants and for understanding how volcanoes explode.

Least favourite part of job: 

Jet lag!

What I am working on now: 

I am working with volcanologists to understand why different types of volcanic rocks behave differently. Lots of crazy things happen to lava once it cools, like chemical changes, fracturing and erosion and we want to know how those changes make the rocks stronger or weaker.

A quick story about a job well done: 

I worked on a big team that designed a 15 metre wide, 10 metre high tunnel under the city of Brisbane, Australia. It was absolutely gigantic and our design made sure that the tunnel was stable for 5 lanes of motorway traffic.

A (humorous) story about a job that went badly and what you learned: 

My PhD student and I were high on top of Ruapehu making rock measurements on a very steep slope. It was the middle of summer but we were very bundled up with warm layers and our rock helmets and even so, after a couple of hours in the cold wind in the shade of the rocks, we both started feeling a little giddy with the cold. We decided to get out of the wind and into the sun before something bad happened and when we got back to the café we saw people in shorts and t-shirts playing in the last remaining patches of snow! This just shows that even in summer, you need to be well prepared for the cold when working on a high mountain.

Qualifications: 

Geological Engineering BE, Geological Engineering PhD.

Interests outside work: 

I love love love rock climbing, which is great because I get to spend lots of time climbing on rocks when I’m working too!


Marlène Villeneuve is a Senior Lecturer in Rock Mechanics in the Geology Department of the University of Canterbury. Image: University of Canterbury.

Marlène Villeneuve enjoys visiting out of the way places to study rocks. Image: M. Villeneuve collection.