Chiara Aquino, a PhD student of Environmental Science and an Advanced Earth Fellow, shares with us her journey to UNCOVER after she transitioned from humanities to science, and discovering her drive to slow climate change.

Earth Fellow Chiara Aquino measures the circumference of a forest tree trunk

The journey to ‘UNCOVER’ – a multi-disciplinary perspective

Chiara is no stranger to taking a leap of faith. After completing an undergraduate degree in Classical Literature, a humanities subject, Chiara developed an interest in science and dared to undertake a bachelor’s in Physics.

Naturally, this transition had its ups and downs – she describes her experience in her first year of studying Physics as “tough”. However, being the fighter that she is, Chiara stuck it out to the end – never missing a tutorial and spending hours in the library. Her determination and efforts paid off and she graduated with a first class in Physics from the University of Edinburgh in 2017.

Climate change

With two degrees in hand, Chiara became interested in finding ways to address the world’s biggest challenge – climate change. This led her to delve into a PhD in Environmental Sciences.

Her PhD research looked at tropical deforestation and took her on a field trip to Peru and Gabon, where she collected forest inventory data before and after selected logging. To do this, she used UAV LiDAR and satellite remote sensing data to produce high-resolution maps of forest degradation. She also worked as a Carbon Assistant at the Department of Sustainability and as a Software Developer for CREATIVEnergie, a charity in Edinburgh with a mission to implement biogas energy in sub-Saharan Africa.

Becoming an Earth Fellow

In joining the Edinburgh Earth Initiative as an Advanced Earth Fellow, Chiara wants to bring her unique perspective and experiences from humanities and science to contribute to interdisciplinary climate change research.

“From my experience, the environment is not separate from the social and economic aspects of climate change. What we have now is an environmental crisis, but this is, in reality, also a social and economic crisis. These issues are very important to me. They’re symptomatic of a system that doesn’t work and I would like that system to change.”


During her fellowship, Chiara will be working on the UNCOVER project – a research collaboration of population health researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

UNCOVER looks at providing evidence-based research for policymakers to shape policies about the environment. Chiara is working with two postgraduate Earth Fellows on the UNCOVER project. To her, working in a team is enriching – she’s enjoying the challenge of project management, as well as developing her research and leadership skills.

Why is Edinburgh Earth Initiative is so crucial?

As someone with an interdisciplinary background, Chiara feels that the Edinburgh Earth Initiative’s value comes from facilitating conversations between University researchers, from bringing them together from across disciplines to reach a common goal and creating opportunities for further collaborations.

“We need to stop looking at universities as separate from society. We need to see them as creators of knowledge and then we need to check if this knowledge is fair and equal. Universities also need to have this awareness and this criticism within themselves. And, this is only possible through conversation between every part of the institution.”

For her time at the Earth Initative, Chiara is excited about delving into health and environment research. She says: “Researching a new topic is such an awesome opportunity. Moving into a different subject area and still seeing it in connection to what I have done before feels very exciting.”

What’s next?

After her fellowship, Chiara hopes to work with a non-profit organisation. She wants to harness her technical skills in environmental analysis to, for example, work with an NGO doing work related to abuses in human environmental rights.

Outside of her studies and research, Chiara loves dancing, and dancing to Latin music is her favourite.