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Neville James Price, 1926 - 2005

Neville James Price worked mainly on the analysis of deformation in brittle rocks, the mechanics of impact cratering, and the interaction between lithospheric plates. His last book, Major Impacts and Plate Tectonics (2001) demonstrates how the fusion of these somewhat disparate fields can yield challenging solutions to some long-standing puzzles in Earth history, notably the sudden changes in azimuth and velocity displayed from time to time by plate translation.

Price's heritage is not confined to the written word. He was a talented teacher, and during his years at Imperial College London he helped to develop a celebrated MSc course in structural geology and rock mechanics. His students and collaborators have gone on to develop and complement his ideas in many parts of the world, and his quantitative modes of structural analysis now appear almost routine when once they seemed out of place in field geology.

Neville Price was born in Ebbw Vale, Monmouthshire, and attended the local County Grammar school. In 1943 he volunteered for the Royal Navy and joined the RNVR, and in 1945 he was posted to the Pacific Fleet. After demobilisation in 1947 he read for a BSc (Honours) in Geology at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. As he later wrote, the degree course, which was heavily biased towards taxonomy, was not especially exciting. Fortunately Aberystwyth is on Cardigan Bay, where a thick series of folded grits and shales are exposed; and even more fortunately the structural geologist Gilbert Wilson was visiting the University. Fired by Wilson's lectures and field excursions Price began a PhD thesis devoted to those structures, which he completed at Imperial College London in 1953. In the same year he married Joan Jenkins. They had one son on son on 12 January 1956.

He spent the next 10 years at the Mining Research Establishment in Isleworth (Middlesex), where he became Head of Geology and Strata Control and where he worked on the elasticity and strength of sedimentary rocks. Some of his early ideas were lucidly presented in his first book, Fault and joint development in brittle and semi-brittle rocks (1966). He joined Imperial College in 1964, became Head of Structural Geology in 1974 and was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of London in 1975. Between 1984 and 1989 he was at University College London, and also acted as a consultant to Shell, BP and Clyde Oil and to the US Government on the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository. Price was awarded the Lyell Fund of the Geological Society of London and the Consolidated Goldfields Medal of the Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

One of Neville Price's colleagues at the Mining Research Establishment, Gareth Jones, was an explosives expert, and Price soon grasped the connection between bomb and impact craters. There were many other productive collaborations, notably the experiments by his student P K Blay that he supervised at IC on rock folding under the influence of gravity. The work with Jones encouraged Price to consider the role of impacts in geological history, which he included in a pioneering study of geological strain rates, published in the Journal of the Geological Society in 1975, and to evaluate the force required to create impact craters of different sizes under a wide range of conditions.

Towards the end of his career Neville Price promoted at UCL the computer modelling of pressure-release melting triggered by meteorite impact. The folding studies encouraged him to revive the concept of gravity glide as a major driving force in plate tectonics. Price also investigated plate interaction on a grand scale in his work on Indonesian tectonics with M G Audley-Charles, and in 1981 he co-edited with K R McClay a Special Publication of the Geological Society devoted to thrust and nappe tectonics.

The textbook The Analysis of Geological Structures, which he co-authored with John Cosgrove in 1990, places the search for the processes that modify the Earth's crust at all scales as the primary aim of what they termed the mechanistic approach to structural geology, a lively mix of disciplines that extends to the other rocky planets and that fruitfully combines field study, laboratory analysis and computer modelling.

Neville Price was born 10 June 1926 and died in Stamford (Lincolnshire) on 31 May 2005. He leaves his widow Joan and his son, the mineral physicist Prof. G David Price.

Claudio Vita-Finzi