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2007 Awards: Citations, Replies


Wollaston Medal - Prof Andrew Knoll

This is the Society's senior medal, first awarded to William Smith himself in 1831, and named for William Wollaston, one of the great scientific polymaths.

Appropriately enough, this year's winner of the Wollaston Medal is a world authority on the early biological and environmental evolution of our planet, whose work is also marked by a striking multidisciplinarity – straddling with enviable ease the domains of palaeontology, evolutionary biology, geochemistry, astrobiology, and recently the sedimentary geology and geochemistry of the planet Mars. I am tempted to recall the lines of John Dryden: "A man so various that he seemed to be/ Not one, but all mankind's epitome". Andy Knoll has had an uncanny knack of recognising where science is going to move next - and somehow being there making a fundamental contributions, amiably ahead of his nearest rivals.

Based at Harvard University, where he is Fischer Professor of Natural History, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Curator of Palaeobotanical Collections, Andrew Knoll's has been one the major players in deciphering the key evolutionary events that shaped life on Earth in its earliest times – events like the initial radiation of prokaryotic organisms, and then of the eukaryotes; and the rise of larger and more complex algae and metazoan animals towards the end of the Proterozoic Era.

Knoll's work has laid much of our current understanding of how complex environmental changes accompanied the evolution of animals and plants during the 300 million years preceding the explosive radiation that heralded the Palaeozoic. Andy Knoll has been very much a hands-on, field based scientist, a veteran of expeditions to lands as varied as Spitzbergen, Namibia and China. No armchair theoriser, he has gone out to the rocks to find new evidence for life's most mysterious phase on planet Earth, as summarised memorably in his book, Life on a young planet - the first three billion years of evolution on Earth (2003).

Andy Knoll has been skilful in moving from detailed and timeless palaeontological studies to this grander scale. His careful documentation of Precambrian palynomorphs and other fossils is ultimately relevant to assessing how oxygen played a crucial role in the development of the Metazoa; his work on the fossil embryos of the Chinese Proterozoic bears upon the rise of animals and the reality or otherwise of the Cambrian "explosion"; his studies of the environmental factors influencing this Cambrian radiation helped refine the international correlation of Proterozoic-Cambrian sequences by the use of carbon isotope changes. 

One can only stand back with amazement at the geo-political skill that Knoll employed in bringing the Ediacaran Period into being – the first new Period to be added to the stratigraphic scale since the 19th Century.

Nor has his work been confided to the murkier parts of Earth history, for his studies of anoxia related to extinction patterns and metabolic activity have also helped to decode the end-Permian mass extinction among marine invertebrates. He has considered wisely and influentially the extinction that is happening now as a consequence of human rapacity.

The profound impact and wide range of Knoll's work in elucidating the early history of life and its interrelationships with environmental change was recognised last year when he was awarded the Paleontological Society Medal. He was elected to that most famously picky of organisations the National Academy of Sciences at an unusually early age. He has received recognition from several countries in many ways.

Andrew Knoll, you are indeed a worthy recipient of this Society's highest honour, the Wollaston Medal.

Andrew H. Knoll replied:

President, honoured guests, Fellows of the Society,

Let me begin by thanking the Geological Society for this wonderful surprise. Throughout my adult life, I’ve been paid to be curious. Discovery is the true reward of curiosity, and in this I’ve been fortunate. To receive the remarkable dividend of the Wollaston Medal is, quite simply, beyond aspiration. I accept it with gratitude and, given the list of previous recipients, no small measure of humility.

I particularly appreciate the society’s generosity in sending this medal across the ocean -- to a town, in fact, that once threw your tea into the harbor. Today’s events remind me of just how much I have benefited from my friendships and collaborations with British geologists. In 1979, for example, I wrote to the late Brian Harland for advice on initiating palaeontological research on the thick Neoproterozoic successions of Spitsbergen. In response Brian invited me to join the Cambridge Spitsbergen Expedition, providing what must be counted as the big break of my career. Later, in 1991, I was welcomed to the University of Cambridge, where Brian and Elisabeth Harland, Simon Conway Morris, and many others, including the fellows and staff of Caius College, made sure that my entire family enjoyed a happy and productive year. Among many other things, Simon taught me the word “shambolic,” which I now use at every opportunity.

No one reaches a milestone such as this without help from many people. My academic genealogy is marked by exceptional scientists in both the branches that coalesced in my education and that those that have expanded outward from my lab. Of the former group, I will mention only my mentor, Elso Barghoorn. Elso taught me that science has no intrinsic disciplinary boundaries, and that the answers to the questions I generate as a palaeontologist might well lie down the hall or across the street in the labs of comparative biologists or geochemists. I, in turn, have benefited from excellent graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, who have adopted this interdisciplinary mindset as their own, inviting me – indeed, forcing me -- to think in fresh ways again and again. I am grateful to them all.

Let me close with one last, personal note of thanks. My wife Marsha has probably earned a Master’s degree for the countless dinners she has endured with geologists who can’t stop talking shop (I’m one of them). She and my children, Kirsten and Rob, have certainly earned half of this medal for the unflagging love, support, and patience that have allowed me to accomplish whatever I have in the Earth sciences.

So, to President Fortey for his kind remarks, to the Geological Society for this wonderful weight of palladium, and to family and colleagues, teachers and students – thank you.

Lyell Medal - Prof Philip Allen

This medal is named for one of the greatest, most prolific and most influential geologists of the 19th Century – Sir Charles Lyell.

This year's Lyell Medal goes to a process-oriented Earth scientist who is interested – as was Charles Lyell himself - in interactions and feedbacks between the solid Earth and its "exosphere" at their interface, the Earth's surface. He is Professor Philip Allen, of Imperial College London, where since 2005 he has worked as "Head of Earth & Planets". (This title is surely destined to become one of the greats, even daring to trump the British Museum's wonderfully grand "Keeper of Asia"!)

Allen's research career began at Cambridge, where under the supervision of Peter Friend he worked on Devonian alluvial fan and lacustrine sediments in Shetland – the Orcadian Basin and its margins. His early work concentrated on quantitative reconstruction of palaeoenvironments from the rock record. A postdoc in Berne, Switzerland broadened his horizons to larger scale problems, such as the stratigraphic evolution of the Alpine foreland basin, linking its geodynamic evolution to the stratigraphic record. Here, Allen's theoretical models and numerical analysis were strongly rooted in field observations - something that has always been a hallmark of his.

Since this considerable body of work, Allen has switched his attentions to the Neoproterozoic, and the sedimentary record of the major glaciations, and in testing the "Snowball Earth" hypothesis – work that seems to be clearly suggesting more of a slushball than a snowball! Allen has also been keen to proselytise this work, and has written about it at some length for a more general audience, notably in our Fellowship magazine Geoscientist.

In 2004 Allen delivered the William Smith Lecture, highlighting the response times of erosional systems to changes in boundary conditions imposed by tectonics and climate. He also demonstrated a very wide range of interesting hand gestures which reached a wider audience through a sequence of photographs that remind one of those silhouettes of the great orchestral conductors of the 19th Century.
Philip Allen, your wide research interests, talent for proselytisation and admirable record of fine textbooks – including Basin Analysis and Earth Surface Processes – make you the perfect recipient of the Society's Lyell Medal.

Philip Allen replied:

I am very pleased and greatly honoured to receive this medal, particularly when I look at the list of past Lyell medallists and those others being honoured by the Geological Society today. After graduating at Aberystwyth, I hovered for a while on the cusp between academia and the petroleum industry. As it happened my identical twin brother went one way and I went the other, and I have never regretted my choice. Years after this bifurcation I teamed up with him, coined the term basin analysis, wrote a book on it, and then a second edition. In a sense, basin analysis is simply an exercise in integration, and this, in a way, encapsulates my attitude toward the scientific enterprise, caring a lot about the observational details but keeping an eye on the bigger picture, whether it be basin development around the Alpine periphery, climate change in deep time, or tide and wave sedimentology. I have never been remotely bored by the challenges of my job, and am passionate about the value of the sedimentary record as an unparalleled archive of information about Earth surface processes and Earth history. Rachel Carson of Silent Spring fame wrote that ‘sediments are a sort of epic poem of the Earth’; indeed they are, and learning the language to decipher them is a wonderful vocation.

I have been greatly inspired by a number of colleagues around the world too numerous to mention here, and by a trail of graduate students and postdocs also too numerous to mention. Inspiration generally springs from without rather than within. I would like to thank my thesis supervisor at Cambridge, Peter Friend, who set me on the right path in the late 1970s, though he was not responsible for teaching me excessive hand gestures. Those came about through the nervous energy of the gladiatorial debating of Snowball Earth. Peter could not have anticipated that his graduate student, far too young to already have a wife and baby, would eventually become Head of not only Earth but also of Planets!

Murchison Medal - Prof Herbert Huppert

This medal is named for Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, founder or co-founder of the Silurian, Devonian and Permian Systems, and a prodigious traveller and mapper.

This year's recipient began his education in Australia, and then at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he was swept up - entrained, you might say - by fluid dynamics, and physical oceanography. His ability as an applied mathematician led to his early appointment to the Dept of Applied Maths and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, England, where his initial interests lay in the convection of oceans and atmosphere. I speak of course of Professor Herbert Huppert.

Working with J S Turner, Huppert the theoretician then became an outstanding experimentalist and made a number of contributions to the science of gravity flows, including the dynamics of slumps and turbidity currents.

Around 1979 Huppert's work took a radical turn - collaborating with the young Steven Sparks; a former President of this Society, but then a young geologist in the Department of Earth Science. Together they worked on the dynamics of magma chambers and key fluid-dynamic processes that control differentiation. Huppert recognised that the multi-component convection that occurs in oceans also controls much chemical differentiation in the Earth, and in volcanoes. Papers subsequently published with Sparks and Turner are today widely recognised as having laid the foundation for the dynamical study of igneous processes.

Subsequently Huppert became interested in the fluid dynamics of melting and solidification, and together with his brilliant research students he made a considerable contribution both to applied mathematics and fluid dynamics. The implications of this work extend from lava lakes, freezing at surface, to the formation of the Earth's core. Huppert's work maintains its controversial cutting edge today, illustrating his consistent ability to innovate and to see natural processes from new perspectives.

Herbert Huppert – your work has involved fundamental contributions across a very wide spectrum of geology and geophysics. You are not only one of the most distinguished mathematicians ever to have applied your skills to geological problems, but you are also a worthy recipient of the 2007 Murchison Medal.

Prof. Huppert replied:

It was an enormous and totally unexpected thrill to be informed that I had been awarded the Murchison Medal; and I thank you Mr President, the Council and the Awards Committee for their decision. I hope that Murchison himself would have approved of the intrusion of mathematics and fluid mechanics into geology, which in his time was the descriptive subject upon which all further advances have been built. When as a sixteen-year-old I studied geology as one of my four subjects in my scientific first year at Sydney University I could hardly have imagined that one day I would be standing here

I have been enormously lucky in my mentors. First was my High School chemistry teacher, Lennie Basser, who was interested in and taught us about minerals and ores, particularly so that he could make money from mining company shares, and who trained seven Fellows of the Royal Society and a Nobel Laureate.

I was fortunate, while a young graduate student to meet in 1965 Dan McKenzie, Mr Plate Tectonics as he is now called by a friend of mine, but also Mr Sedimentary Basins or even Mr Earth Sciences would be just as appropriate, who discussed his geological insights with me from the start. With some pride I can say I appreciated their worth, as I wrote in an aerogramme to a then girlfriend.

“I went downstairs yesterday to borrow a journal from a guy from Cambridge. He is a Ph.D. student, here for about three months. “Just the man I want”, he says as I come in. “Can you do this, or sort of it anyway.” He is a very good geophysicist; I am sure he will be one of the very best soon. However his maths is not so A1. It does not really matter, it is not in absolute need anywhere for him. Anyway I helped him, for which he gave me another problem. So in the end I was churning out maths for him for an hour”.

As you have heard, my fellow countryman, Stewart Turner, guided my early steps in laboratory experimentation and taught me how to make investigations simple and effective.

The major reason I stand here today, however, is due to my friendship and intellectual partnership with Steve Sparks, who at Dan’s suggestion, first telephoned me in 1979 starting the conversation with: Dan tells me you know some fluid mechanics. Is that true? If so, maybe we could get together. Lord Florey, one of my real scientific heroes, and to me the inventor of penicillin said: I would work with the Devil, if he had something to teach me. Peter Medawar, his Nobel Prize winning immunologist student, who I am sure knew of Florey’s statement wrote: You should only work at the bench during the week with someone whom you also enjoy socialising with on the weekend. In Steve I was very fortunate in that I much enjoyed interacting with him 24/7; in addition to which even our wives and children became friends, which somehow brings to mind, because I feel amongst friends here, the statement that I believe I am the only Earth Scientist to have shared a double bed with each of Dan McKenzie and Steve Sparks, both on geological field trips. And I am not going to expand on either experience.

As you all know, behind every successful man stands an astonished woman. I am very grateful for the love, support and encouragement given to me by Felicia. While developing her own career – she is the Professor of Psychology at Cambridge – she has listened to me, brought up our two wonderful sons and put up with my prattling on about mathematics, komatiites, zussmanites and so on, in addition to my absences in the field at critical moments and all the terrors that Richard Feynman described in his essay warning against marrying a successful scientist.

All in all, as you see, I have been extremely fortunate in my scientific life. I have met many stimulating people, gone often with Steve, and sometimes with Dan, to exciting field areas, and generally had fun. My friends, colleagues and students have helped enormously. I thank the Geological Society and you, Mr President, for awarding me the honour of the Murchison Medal.


William Smith Medal - Prof Michael Worthington

The medal named for the Father of English Geology, William Smith, was first awarded in 1977 and is awarded for excellence in contributions to applied and economic aspects of geology.

The recipient this year is Senior Research Fellow in Exploration Geophysics, Oxford, after holding the Chair of Geophysics at Imperial College from 1985 to 2004. His name – Michael Worthington.

Mike Worthington's research has been at the interface of theoretical seismology and exploration reflection seismology. His main interest has been seismic wave propagation in crustal rocks, and the way in which seismic attributes relate to petrophysical properties. He has studied seismic velocity anisotropy, seismic attenuation and, most recently, seismic wave scattering and variation of transmission and reflection coefficients with angle in fractured rocks.

Worthington's work has encompassed a wide range of field experiments, including borehole seismic surveys employing downhole sources and receivers. His work on the relationships between electrical and seismic properties of rocks, on crosshole seismic tomographic imaging and particularly on relations between rock fracture and hydraulic conductivity, including electrokinetic phenomena – the electric fields associated with the passage of a seismic wave through a fluid-saturated porous medium - has been of obvious interest to the hydrocarbon sector.

His current interests also include studies of wave propagation in basaltic rock, seismic imaging through basaltic layers and multi-component time lapse seismology in fractured reservoirs.

Michael Worthington, it is my pleasure today to bestow upon you the William Smith Medal of The Geological Society of London.

Michael Worthington replied:

Despite being trained as a physicist, I consider myself extremely privileged to have spent the past 35 years in two geology departments. For most of the time I have been with them, these institutions called themselves exactly that rather than the currently more common euphemism, Earth Sciences. However, this has involved some anxieties. High on the list of past events that still recur in nightmares are my attempts to act as geology tutor to the Exeter College students at Oxford in the early 1970’s when my geological knowledge could charitably be described as rudimentary. So, despite subsequent attempts at self education, I will confess to a lingering feeling that I have never been quite the genuine article.

However, now the Geological Society of London has associated my name with William Smith, and has even referred to me as an applied geologist and I am absolutely delighted. You must forgive me if I take this as evidence that I have been welcomed into the tribe.

It is essential that I thank those without whose help I am quite certain I would not be standing here now. I have been particularly fortunate in the quality of the PhD students and post-doctoral research scientists who I have worked with. With apologies to those not named, I would particularly like to mention Gerhard Pratt, Mark Sams and Paul Williamson. I certainly hope that the awards committee noticed that the papers most worth reading from my list of publications are all first authored by these outstanding scientists. I am also most grateful to Roy White for his support in our joint management of research projects over a number of years. Lastly, my thanks to past and present colleagues at Oxford and Imperial for their good company and good humour.

Ladies and gentlemen, Fellows, thank you very much indeed.

Coke Medal - Prof Peter Maguire

The first of this year's Coke medals goes to a physicist-turned-geophysicist, Professor Emeritus Peter Maguire of the University of Leicester.

After graduating with first class honours in physics from Edinburgh Peter Maguire moved from lab-based physics and did a PhD at Durham on the structure of East Africa through earthquake seismology. His work has since all been based in Earth science departments, where his input as a physicist has been invaluable, and the main focus of his research has remained on lithospheric extension, using seismic studies of crust and mantle in both continental and oceanic settings – notably in Kenya and Ethiopia.

A major achievement in recent years has been SEIS-UK, the acquisition of seismic recording systems to study rifting processes, setting up the national pool of state-of-the-art seismic equipment now based at Leicester University that has resulted in a resurgence of UK seismological activity.

Peter has served the national and international scientific community in other ways. He has completed four years as chair of the British Geophysical Association, during which time he and his committee have significantly raised the profile of British geophysics through its international meetings, the Bullerwell lectures, and initiating the recent review of geophysics education (the "Khan Report", 2006). He has also twice been Vice President of the Royal Astronomical Society, Secretary of the Royal Society's Explosion Seismology Working Group – I bet that was less fun than it sounds – and many more.

Peter Maguire, for all this and more – please accept the Coke Medal of The Geological Society of London.

Peter Maguire responded:

President, Fellows, Ladies and Gentlemen;

Those of us who have had the good fortune to undertake a career teaching and researching our chosen discipline are here believing that simply ‘finding out about things’ is the joy and in large part the goal of our lives. To be honoured for doing just that is more than I deserve.

However, it is not possible to undertake one’s career in isolation, and the honour of this award spreads to those by whom I have been educated, and with whom I have enjoyed working so much. It is not possible to name them all, but a few - I must.

No matter how much education is now dominated by targets, league tables and so on, it is still the teacher who provides inspiration for young minds, and I am sure almost everyone here has one such who was so important. For me it was my school Physics master, David Hepburne-Scott, who would have been astonished, but I trust delighted, to see me here today, he having occasionally scrawled in bright red ink ‘How Horrible!’ across my own sometimes lazy scribblings.

Following Edinburgh and my PhD at Durham, I moved as a callow youth to Leicester where I came across Peter Sylvester-Bradley, and a Department that breathed values that I held dear and I just knew that I had come to the right place. Aftab Khan, so much a colleague and supporter, and with whom I have got into endless scrapes in Kenya and elsewhere, has been a stalwart companion and lifelong friend. Most recently he has been a tower of strength, lead authoring the Review of UK Geophysics Education that my BGA committee initiated a couple of years ago, believing that we must ensure an increased number of Earth Science graduates with strong Physics and Mathematics in their armoury.

As a seismologist, latterly, I and my colleagues realized that the UK desperately needed to get itself once again to the forefront of the science by improving hugely its seismic equipment base. We did this, the result being SEIS-UK. It could not have been done without the drive, tenacity and imagination of all the PIs, but in particular Bob White, Cindy Ebinger and Mary Fowler, and of course Paul Denton, the first Executive Manager, without whom I am sure it would not have got off the ground at all.

My most recent foray into Africa in Ethiopia has been a real highlight for me, working with international colleagues and from the UK, Graham Stuart, Mike Kendall, and of course the irrepressible and outstanding Cindy Ebinger without whose energy and drive the project would not have begun, nor been the success it was.

As I have said, we cannot do our work without others, and I have not even mentioned my many research students, and in particular departmental – and cricketing - colleagues who have shared my days at Leicester and elsewhere, and last, but by no means least, my dear wife Val. I would that this award could be shared between all of them.

May I finally say ‘Thank you’ to the Society for presenting me with the 2007 Coke Medal. I am deeply honoured.

Coke Medal – Prof. John Murray

The second of the Society's Coke medals goes this year to a man with a prodigious research career spanning 48 years, during which time he has published no less than nine books and over 150 papers – Professor John Murray of the University of Southampton.

His research into the ecology of the Foraminifera has been his outstanding scientific contribution, and many of his publications on this subject have been truly seminal. His survey of the lifestyles of benthic forams - odd to think that even a single-celled organism has to have a "lifestyle" these days - ranges across all environments from the equatorial to polar and from the shoreline to the deep sea. He has used the results of his rigorous and abundant palaeoecological studies to the benefit of the wider scientific community, both in academe and industry; in experiments on the effects of differential fossilisation on the stratigraphic record, and in their use to determine palaeosalinity zonation of nearshore environments. His books, culminating last year with Ecology and Applications of Benthic Foraminifera, published by Cambridge University Press, have aided the education of generations of micropalaeontologists worldwide.

His contributions to learned societies like ours, the Palaeontological Association, the Micropalaeontological Society and the Royal Society, have been considerable. He has served as professor at both Exeter and Southampton and was head of department at Exeter. He has supervised 24 research students. For a scientist of such wide-ranging influence it is fitting that in 2001 he was awarded the Joseph A Cushman Award from the Cushman Foundation at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington. He has also recently been made an Honorary Member of both the Micropalaeontological Society and the Palaeontological Association. In 1981 he was awarded the Wollaston Fund by the Society.

John Murray, it is an honour that you do us in accepting the Society's Coke Medal.

Prof. Murray replied:

Mr President, it is with great pleasure that I accept the Coke Medal and I thank you for your very kind words.

I have enjoyed my academic career and my output in terms of publications and training students may be regarded a measure of that enjoyment. As for the lifestyle of foraminifera, their attractive shells could perhaps be regarded as designer fashion statements. It is a sobering thought that I have been attending lecture meetings here for 51 years – one quarter of the history of the Society.

Even as an undergraduate I knew that I wanted to be an academic. What I did not realise then is how chance can play an important role in the development of a career.

I have been very lucky to be in the right place at the right time. For instance, a big expansion of universities took place as a consequence of the Robbins Report and this created new jobs in the early 1960s. I was involved in the early stages of mapping the sea bed geology of the English Channel with Fred Whittard at Bristol. I worked with Graham Evans and his team on Persian Gulf carbonate lagoons. A 3 month visit to Woods Hole gave me the opportunity to meet some distinguished ecologists who sparked my interest in species diversity. In the 1980s I was involved with IPOD and ODP. And my father, who was an engineer, designed and made several sediment samplers which greatly helped my ecological studies.

A four month visit to Southampton in 1992 by Elisabeth Alve from Oslo started a long period of collaboration which has so far led to 15 publications. For the past 4 years I have been provided with research facilities at the Natural History Museum and at Southampton. I am grateful to both institutions for their continued support.

In parallel with research, 41 years of my life were spent teaching several thousand undergraduates and numerous postgraduates and I have always considered myself lucky and privileged to work with young people.

Retirement was not something I looked forward to but I am slowly adapting to it. My favourite hobby is water colour painting which, like fieldwork, gets me out into the countryside and along the coast, and this is progressively taking up more of my time as well as bringing me into contact with many other like-minded people.

It is an especial pleasure to be honoured by the Society in its bicentenary year and I wish the Society continued success in the next two hundred years and beyond.

Prestwich Medal - Prof Frederick Vine

Our next Award winner is, although he will be hugely embarrassed to hear me say it, a legend in his own lifetime. He won the Bigsby Medal in 1971, but has since not figured in our Awards ceremonies – perhaps because the Committee felt that the worldwide fame rightly associated with his name was reward enough! I don't know.

In bestowing a 2007 Prestwich Medal, the Society has been able to do something a little special for this very special scientist. The Prestwich Medal is normally only bestowed once every three years – yet such is the esteem in which our next winner is held, the Committee was moved to take the extraordinary step of awarding one out of sequence.

I speak, of course, of Professor Frederick John Vine.

Fred Vine is chiefly known for the fundamental contribution he made in that famous Nature paper, when he and his PhD supervisor, the late Drum Matthews, first published their model linking linear magnetic anomalies to seafloor spreading.

By the time Matthews was awarded our Wollaston Medal in 1989, Vine had gone on to achieve lasting renown for a series of papers between 1963 and 1970. Vine's brilliant contribution transformed Harry Hess's "geopoetic" idea into a firmly established reality based on the accurate measurement of spreading rates in different oceans and underpinned the whole plate tectonic revolution. Some of the conclusions drawn from plate tectonics since then may have proved shaky, as is the way in all science; but the foundations stand as strongly today as they did when Fred and his co-authors built them.

Fred's subsequent work has continued the thoughtful, precise, imaginative insight that was evident from the very start of his celebrated career. He and Eldridge Moores made the first detailed study of the Troodos ophiolite in the light of seafloor spreading, and came up with insights that have proved to be the basis for all subsequent work. Working with Roy Livermore and Alan Smith, he investigated the magnitude of non-dipole components of the Earth’s magnetic field, and the extent of True Polar Wander, during the past 200 million years.

Frederick John Vine, there has never been a worthier recipient of the Prestwich Medal of The Geological Society of London.

Prof. Vine replied:

Mr President, you are quite correct, I am hugely embarrassed.

I am tempted to resort to clichés such as: if I saw further it was by standing on the shoulders of giants; that I was in the right place at the right time; that I chose my collaborators carefully; or that I was just plain lucky. Well, in relation to that paper in particular, it is difficult to avoid the temptation, because they are all true.

Clearly the work that Drum Matthews and I did in the early 1960’s built on the monumental work of others during the previous decade or so – giants such as Maurice Ewing, Harry Hess, Maurice Hill, Bill Menard, Vic Vacquier and many others. I had the good fortune to be a graduate student at Cambridge, the one University in the U. K. at that time that was undertaking research into deep-sea geology and geophysics, and in the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics, under the inspirational leadership of Sir Edward ‘Teddy’ Bullard. Drum was, like myself, basically a geologist wanting to apply geophysical techniques to geological problems and he had a particular flair for asking the right questions and designing the right experiments. He had designed and carried out a detailed bathymetric, magnetic and gravity survey of the crest of the Mid-Ocean Ridge in the northwest Indian Ocean and my project was to try to interpret the magnetic anomalies (generally considered at that time to be a poisoned chalice).

Having reduced the data, it was immediately apparent that topography away from the median valley was reversely magnetised, and it was then a relatively small step to suggest that the linear oceanic magnetic anomalies might be a result of sea floor spreading and reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field. However Drum realised that the idea was so heretical that, on its own, it would be unpublishable. We decided therefore to include some forward and inverse modelling of the anomalies in the hope of making the paper more acceptable for publication. Maurice Hill, the head of marine geophysics, fearing the Department’s reputation I suspect, suggested that we also add some unpublished data in the hope of giving it some additional respectability.

Four years later I learned that Lawrence Morley, a Canadian geophysicist, had had the idea some months before I did, and had tried to get it published in Nature and the Journal of Geophysical Research, but without success. Apparently one reviewer commented ‘Morley’s idea is an interesting one - I suppose - but it seems more appropriate over martinis, say, than in the Journal of Geophysical Research’. Well, luck, or perhaps good judgement on the part of my superiors.

My initial studies of the Troodos Massif of Cyprus with Eldridge Moores were particularly fruitful and I was very gratified that the citation for my election to the Royal Society referred to both the work on sea floor spreading and the work with Eldridge on the Troodos. Interestingly, Harry Hess, our mentor at Princeton, thought that we were wasting our time in studying the Troodos because the mafic section was too thick. He, of course, had convinced himself that the bulk of the ocean crust is serpentinite, i.e. hydrated mantle, and in a sense he was right: in certain settings it is, but only in a minority.

Many other collaborations followed; with Roy Livermore and Alan Smith as the President has mentioned; with Russell Ross, a physicist at UEA, involving measurements of the electrical conductivity of rocks at high temperatures and pressures; with Gill Harwood and others on magnetostratigraphy, and a string of graduate students, typically working on the Troodos or electrical conductivity projects, both of which spanned about twenty years. Not only was I very fortunate in my choice of collaborators but we also had a great deal of fun, and coming, as I did, from the Teddy Bullard school of geophysics I had got the impression from the outset that there wasn’t much point in doing science unless it was fun.

To have worked with such colleagues on such fascinating projects has in many ways been reward enough. To be honoured in this way by the Society, and in its bicentenary year, is wholly unexpected, and I thank the Council, most sincerely, for their generosity.

Bigsby Medal - Dr Philip Donoghue

Words like "outstanding" and "brilliant" are all too easily banded about, especially at award ceremonies, but I can think of no-one who deserves them more than the winner of this year's Bigsby Medal.

Dr Philip Donoghue of the University of Bristol's Department of Earth Sciences is an absolutely outstanding young palaeontologist (you can remain "young" as a palaeontologist longer than almost any other profession, but Phil really is young…).

Phil has studied early vertebrates in as much detail as would be applied to living animals. He has worked on the conodont animal and placed that enigmatic group firmly on the line of vertebrate evolution and clarified their position within the tree of life. He has focused attention on developmental aspects of vertebrate tissue using the latest techniques in molecular developmental genetics' to cast light upon how skeletisation occurs. He is also at the forefront in the emerging study of fossil embryos, providing direct input to the fossil evidence for ontogeny.

Phil has also been invited to many prestigious international meetings, including the Plenary Address at a Gordon research conference on biomineralisation and has organised several scientific symposia himself – including a truly excellent one on molecular clocks and evolution. He has also proved an excellent editor of the Palaeontological Association's Newsletter and has served on the Council of the Pal Ass, the Systematics Association, the Micropalaeontological Society, the Palaeontographical Society and the European Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology.

Phil Donoghue, you are always looking out for new techniques, and we are confident that you will make many further distinguished and exciting contributions to knowledge and theory. Looking back over the annals of this award I find that many previous recipients have gone on to become Fellows of the Royal Society (ahem) and so, with absolutely no pressure at all, I confer upon you the Bigsby Medal of The Geological Society for 2007.

Philip Donoghue replied extempore

Sue Tyler Friedman Medal - Mr Jack Morrell

We now come to one of our newest honours, endowed by the distinguished sedimentologist Professor Gerald Friedman, and named for his wife, Sue Tyler Friedman.

The Sue Tyler Friedman Medal is awarded for contributions to the study of the history of our science, and this year's winner is Mr Jack Morrell.

Jack Morrell is one of this country's most distinguished academic historians, who over a period of about 30 years has brought historical rigor to the study of this endlessly fascinating subject. His special interest has been on 19th and early 20th Century geologists, as pioneers and leaders in the development of institutional and public science.

He has persuasively described how many of those involved in this very Society were leaders in developing a public face for science in the UK. He has also explored the relationship between metropolitan and provincial science, and the way it was mediated by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

However if we were to single out one contribution for this award, it would undoubtedly be his publication – after over 20 years' research – of the first book-length life of William Smith's nephew, John Phillips for over 80 years – John Phillips and the Business of Victorian Science (2005).

A former winner of this award, Professor Jim Secord of Cambridge, has written of that work that "No-one knows more about the life of science in 19th Century Britain than Jack Morrell, and his biography of John Phillips is a revelation". High praise indeed. Jack Morrell, we are delighted that you have been able to join us today, and to hear me describe you, in the words of our History of Geology Group, as "an illustrious addition to the Society's medallists".

Jack Morrell replied:

Mr President, Fellows, ladies and gentlemen,

When you, Mr President, told me that I had been awarded the Friedman Medal I was surprised because much of what I have written has nothing to do with the history of geology, I do not regard myself as a specialist historian of earth science, and I have never studied geology formally. When I have published a history of geology I have tried to bring to it approaches that are reliable in history of science and in history in general. I have therefore often focussed on the interests pursued by individuals and groups, on coteries in institutions, and on careers considered as social and intellectual projects, all of which are important in history of geology. Even so I feel unworthy of this Medal but I am happy on this occasion to defer to the superior judgement of my betters.

I am now 73 years old and might me termed an offer septuagenarian. I face obvious danger of deadline into drooping dilapidation, but the award of this Medal will satisfy me in two ways. Firstly, it will encourage me to continue my research into the genesis of a classic work of regional geology, ‘The Geology of Yorkshire by Kendall and Wroot published in 1924. Kendall was the first professor of geology in the University of Leeds and well known for his views about glacier lakes and glacial overflow channels in Northern England. He has been widely regarded as the senior author while Wroot has been dismissed as a mere amanuensis. I am questioning this interpretation by examining the varied inputs made by Wroot, a newspaper journalist in Bradford and Leeds who was never a fellow of this society.

Secondly, the award will help me to maintain the tempo of my research, which at the moment is andante. It might even generate the occasional spurt into allegretto but more frequently it will, I hope, prevent me from slowing to adagio molto.

For any historian it would be a pleasure to receive a medal in this society’s bicentennial year. For me it is particularly curious and gratifying: while preparing my book about John Phillips. I studied many award ceremonies at The Geological Society, without ever thinking that one day I would be a recipient of one of its medals. Now that unexpected but happy day has arrived.

So, Mr President, I thank you for your kind words and for the award of the Friedman Medal.


R H Worth Prize - Mr Hugh Prudden

The R H Worth Prize rewards those who make distinguished contributions to geology as amateurs, or whose work encourages amateur geological research, and our winner this year amply fulfils all those criteria.

If this were Japan someone would have made Hugh Prudden a national living treasure. Hugh, who already holds the Halstead Award of the Geologists' Association, is a tireless campaigner for the recognition of geology in local studies and is widely respected for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the geology and geomorphology of his home county of Somerset. He is an enthusiastic campaigner, founder member and chief organiser, of countless organisations - including the Somerset Geology Group, and is closely involved with the GA, the Open University, the Devonshire Association and the Ussher Society.

Moreover, Hugh has carried out what we might call, borrowing terms from the archaeologists, "emergency" or "rescue" geology in temporary exposures of Mesozoic rocks in Somerset and adjacent areas – including delightful locations like road works, and gas and water pipeline trenches. A letter from Hugh on this subject was recently published in Geoscientist.

Hugh worked for many years as a geography lecturer at Yeovil College, and also Bristol University's Extra Mural Department. In 2003 he published "Somerset Geology – a good rock guide" on his own website, demonstrating that he is no Luddite.

Hugh Prudden, it is a delight to present you with the Society's R H Worth prize for 2007.

Distinguished Service Award - Dr Philip Christie

The first of today's Distinguished Service Awards goes to a geophysicist whose influence on the subject in the UK has been immense.

Dr Philip Christie (Schlumberger Cambridge Research Ltd.) has a distinguished record of committed service to the Earth science community in both industry and academe. Few geophysics departments in UK universities have not benefited from his careful and balanced advice. His thoroughness and care as an examiner of PhD and MSc candidates are legendary. His record of service to NERC committees, to advisory boards and industry panels, are exhausting - even to list! He is currently an editor of Petroleum Geoscience, and has carried a full load of refereeing duties for several journals over many years – a burden he has borne with his habitual thoroughness, care, and diligence.

Philip Christie's scientific work has also had a marked impact. His papers in the 1980s in Nature and JGR with John Sclater, showed how basin subsidence by stretching could be recognised from seismic measurements and constrained by sediment decompaction and subsidence curves. His decompaction methods are still in use 25 years after he first enumerated them. More recently, his contributions in time-lapse seismic and sub-basalt imaging on the Atlantic Margin have been recognised by the Norwegian Petroleum Society and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers.

However his unselfish spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm, particularly in nurturing young scientists, whether in industry or academe, are recognised by this award today. Nobody has done more that Philip Christie to foster industrial-academic links, and he has given decades of distinguished service to the geological community. As Vice-President elect of EAGE, with whom we share Petroleum Geoscience, he will also have a role in developing inter-society relationships in coming years.

Philip Christie, it is my privilege to award you today the Distinguished Service Award of the Geological Society.

Distinguished Service Award - Prof Duncan Murchison

The second Distinguished Service Award of 2007 is presented to Professor Duncan Murchison.

Duncan, this award is made principally to recognise your massive contribution as the Society's Treasurer between the turn of the current century and last year. Most Fellows will, of course, be unaware of what you accomplished in this time - even if they succeeded in reading all your Jeremiads about the Society's finances in the pages of Geoscientist, or in the finance section of the Annual Report.

We shall not, therefore, dwell upon your many scientific distinctions – your pioneering work in the field of organic geochemistry, or your lifetime of applying optical methods to organic geochemistry, especially in coals, but also of oil source rocks. That you have achieved mastery of those arcane arts is one thing. But that you should also have: 

overseen a complete revision of the Society's accounting methods, bringing them into line with new charity accounting rules;

  • laid the foundation of financial probity that now enables a revitalised Society to spring forward from its Bicentenary into its second 200 years;
  • managed to get Council – and subsequently the AGM – to agree to the revolutionary idea that things should not run at a loss, and that all elements of this business we call the Geological Society must cover their costs;

  • sorted out accounting problems about which nobody outside the charmed circle of the permanent staff and various committees ever heard;

  • successfully maximised this Society's investment income

  • ensured that the Society can face its post-Bicentenary years in a state of financial surplus…

These are the things we choose to celebrate here today.

All of them were achieved at the expense of long hours of travel from Newcastle - including many letters to GNER about the state of their toilets - and were done with a characteristic sense of good humour that made the acceptance of unpalatable necessities that much easier.

The work of the best treasurers is often long and unappreciated. By virtue of this award here today, we seek to make sure that it does not go un-thanked.

Duncan Murchison, your work for this Society has no equal. We are pleased to recognise it publicly here today, and ask you to accept this Distinguished Service Award with our warmest affection and best wishes for the future.

William Smith Fund - Dr Bryan Cronin

The William Smith Fund this year is awarded to Dr Bryan Cronin. Bryan is a sedimentologist whose innovative and influential work on deep water sand bodies, their architecture and genesis, has rapidly won him international recognition. He continues to work on field research in southern and eastern Turkey, and participates in deep-sea research cruises.

His close links with the Oil and Gas Industry, enabled him to create and direct an innovative and highly-regarded Masters programme on Hydrocarbon Enterprise at Aberdeen University, a programme combining technological elements with economic and socio-legal aspects, encouraging entrepreneurial skills. Now an academic consultant with honorary status at two universities, Bryan continues to direct and teach on MSc modules for engineers entering the Oil Industry. He also runs intensive geoscience training programmes around the world within the Oil Industry.

Bryan, your contribution to applied geology amply merits the award of the William Smith Fund.

Murchison Fund - Dr Glenn Milne

The Murchison Fund this year is awarded to an outstanding young scientist, Dr Glenn Milne of Durham University.

Glenn Milne has, in comparatively short order, produced a number of important contributions to glacial isostasy – including the use of GPS data to monitor crustal motions following the melting of the ice that covered Fennoscandia during the last glacial maximum. He is a very productive scientist – over 40 papers since 1998, and quite a few of those in places like Nature, Science, and The Journal of Geophysical Research.

Equally at home with field data and theory, Glenn Milne is poised to address fundamental problems in glacial isostasy, and to illuminate further the climatic events that led the Earth out of its last glacial period –with implications for present and future sea-level change.

Glenn Milne, please accept our congratulations on your work to date, along with the Murchison Fund for 2007.

Lyell Fund - Dr Timothy Henstock

The Lyell Fund this year is awarded to Dr Timothy Henstock of Southampton University, based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

Tim Henstock has been involved in a diverse range of marine geophysical researches at a wide range of scales, principally employing reflection and refraction seismology. His work has implications for the formation of ocean crust, subduction zones, transform faults, continental rifts, triple junctions, and the derivation of physical properties from seismic data - collaborating widely with colleagues from other disciplines. He acted as a consultant to the inquest for UK victims of the 2004 tsunami, and was invited aboard HMS Scott for a well publicised early bathymetric study of the seafloor around the earthquake's epicentre.

Tim, you have already contributed significantly to our understanding of the evolution and growth of continents and to our understanding of how physical properties are derived from seismic data. It is my great pleasure to award you the Lyell Fund of The Geological Society for 2007.

Wollaston Fund - Dr Colin Macpherson

The Wollaston fund this year is awarded to Dr Colin Grant Macpherson of Durham University.

Colin Macpherson has been a pioneer in developing new techniques for the study of isotopic ratios of light elements in magmatic rocks. His work paved the way for laser fluorination to become the routine method for measuring oxygen isotope variations in high temperature rocks. Colin was the first to demonstrate how oxygen isotopes record the relationship between fluid flux and mantle melting in subduction zones, and he developed innovative methods (combining stable and radiogenic isotope measurements on single crystals) of quantifying melt/crust interaction.

Colin is at the cutting edge of combining noble gas and stable isotope approaches to understanding magma sources and how magmas become modified during eruptions.

Colin Macpherson, for this and your consistently innovative approach to isotopic study of geological, archaeological and biological material, I am delighted to award you the 2007 Wollaston Fund of the Society.

President's Award - Dr Derek Keir

The first awards to be announced today are the President's Awards, which are given to young geoscientists of outstanding talent and promise. Unusually, these two awards are, as their name suggests, "in my gift" – which means I don't have to ask the Awards Committee what they think.

The first President's Award this year goes to Dr Derek Keir, who has recently been appointed Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. He researches the rifting processes taking place around the Red Sea, and his PhD thesis, completed only last year, had three results chapters that were all submitted and accepted with only minor amendments by top international journals before he even submitted. A year since completing he now has seven papers published, including two co-authorships on papers in Nature. He has shown great imagination and dedication and an unusual ability to integrate a wide variety of information to probe three dimensional problems in plate tectonics.

Derek Keir, it is a pleasure to award you the first President's Award for 2007.

President's Award - Dr Dan Morgan

The second of this year's two President's Awards is made to Dr Dan Morgan of Leeds University. Dan is an outstanding young igneous petrologist who has conducted some truly innovative research on the timescales of magma recharge during the eruptive history of Vesuvius – especially the AD 79 and 1944 eruptions. His work has demonstrated convincingly that Vesuvius is underlain not by a zoned magma chamber at shallow depth, but by a multi-level system of magma storage reservoirs. His results, which attracted much media attention, are of wide application and he has since been considering other volcanic systems such as El Teide and Stromboli.