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Award Citations and Replies 2011


Wollaston Medal - Robert Stephen John Sparks

The Wollaston Medal this year goes to a man who can lay claim to being this country’s foremost volcanologist.  Former President and winner of our Bigsby and Murchison medals, Steve Sparks has garnered a glittering array of other honours since winning the Wager Medal of IAVCEI in 1978, culminating in being created Commander of the British Empire last year.

Steve, currently a European Research Council Advanced Researcher at Bristol University, is a world-renowned geoscientist, hugely influential in the fields of volcanology and igneous petrology.  After his PhD, carried out under George Walker at his innovative “school of quantitative volcanology” in Imperial College London, Steve embarked upon a course of rigorous integration of field and experimental observation with physics and mathematics to further our understanding of fundamental geophysical processes, working closely with applied mathematicians.  He has since sustained a position at the cutting edge of igneous petrology and volcanological research along a remarkably wide front.

Steve’s early collaborations led to a number of seminal papers based on diverse Icelandic eruptions and tephras, through ignimbrite emplacement to lava flows on Mt Etna.  In theoretical work, Steve has devised models of eruption-plume dynamics, ash fallout and magma chamber dynamics that remain the dominant influence on modern thinking.  He has engaged in research cruises – a pursuit he continues to this day – to learn more about modern, active submarine volcaniclastic successions, for example around the Lesser Antilles and off Montserrat, at whose volcano observatory he was Chief Scientist from 1996 to 99.  He also served as Chair of the Advisory Committee to the UK and Montserrat governments between 1997 and 2003.

It would be hard to name a more proficient modern leader in scientific research in our discipline.  Steve, your extraordinary depth and breadth of expertise have rendered you an outstanding adviser to Government and institutions concerned with geophysical hazard and risk.  Your leadership of the Bristol Environmental Risk Centre (BRISK), which specifically aims to connect scientists with decision-makers, stands as an example to us all.  You were a key Government adviser during the 2010 Icelandic ash crisis, and on top of all this you have maintained active engagement with young volcanologists from developing nations, helping their careers and the establishment of volcano observatories.  You have also worked extensively with the media – perhaps most memorably for the BBC Horizon documentary and associated docu-drama, “Supervolcanoes”.  You have even found time to help at least one sedimentologist distinguish turbidites from contourites on the shores of Cardigan Bay, using some nifty physical arguments of which this year’s Lyell Medallist this would approve.

Steve, as well as this formidable scientific reputation you are also renowned for your outstanding personal qualities of probity and good humour.  For all these things, but mostly for your determination to share your passion for understanding how volcanoes work, you are a worthy winner of this Society’s highest honour.

Steve Sparks replied:

Mr President, thank you for your kind words and to the Awards Committee, Council and nominators for this great honour. The list of recipients of the Wollaston Medal who have contributed to volcanology and igneous petrology is stellar, and includes Darwin, Lyell, Scrope, Geikie, Lacroix, Daly and Bowen. More recently George Walker was a Wollaston medallist.

I started my academic career at Imperial College in 1968 first as a student inspired by George’s lectures and then, as his PhD student, supervised by him. George was one of the greatest British field geologists of the last century and a pivotal figure in the development of modern volcanology. I would also like to record my debt to Wally Pitcher. As a schoolboy from the Wirral I went to see Wally who suggested that geology was a rather interesting subject and that Imperial College was the place to go.

I am lucky to have worked with so many outstanding scientists and research students from whom I have learnt so much. Collaborations with Lionel Wilson at Lancaster and then Herbert Huppert at Cambridge enabled me to understand the power of mathematical models when combined with simple laboratory experiments and the empirical understanding that comes from geological observation. I have many great colleagues at Bristol and around the World from the USA, Chile, Iceland, the Caribbean, Japan and many other places. What a privilege to be paid to study volcanoes, surely one of the greatest spectacles of nature. My success, however, rests with the support of my family. I was brought up in a bachelor household in Chester. My father supported and encouraged me in every way, notwithstanding an unpromising start with an accident-prone childhood and lack of success at the 11-plus. He gave me a love of cricket, the outdoors, choral music and curry and the support that enabled an unsuspected flair for science and maths to emerge rather late in the day.  I am celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary next week so today is a good time to acknowledge the support of my wife Ann, and two wonderful sons, Andrew and Daniel. A geologist is not the easiest choice of life companion, but we have shared much in terms of international friendships and experienced many beautiful places around the World that reflect the itinerant life of an academic geologist. 

Lyell Medal - Christopher Paola

The medal, named for perhaps the 19th Century’s most influential Earth scientist, Sir Charles Lyell, goes this year to one of the world’s most distinguished sedimentary geologists – Chris Paola, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Chris is a sedimentologist and stratigrapher interested in process, whose research stretches from the dynamics of bedforms and braided rivers to quantitative understanding of large-scale stratigraphic sequences across entire sedimentary basins; distilling essential simplicity from the rich and complex brew of nature’s complexity.  This work has not only been of academic importance – it has also impinged crucially upon petroleum geology, river hydrology and engineering.

Together with a number of distinguished collaborators, Chris developed innovative and quantitative models for the filling of sedimentary basins and was a pioneer in investigating the statistics of bedform preservation, reconstructing bedform geometry from what is left to us in the preserved stratigraphy.  Chris made important developments in the field of “experimental stratigraphy”, using a large experimental sandbox – “Jurassic Tank” as it was dubbed – to investigate how real sequences are created, by varying different parameters in controlled conditions.  What distinguished these experiments from the familiar flume tank was the ability of the researcher to vary, both in space and time, the degree of basin subsidence – so allowing the examination of the role of tectonics in controlling large-scale stratigraphy.  As can be readily imagined, this work has had major implications for hydrocarbon exploration.

Chris’s career has therefore also been marked by his attempts to bridge the divide that can all too easily open up between observation and theory, between fieldworkers and theoreticians.  His experiments have been extraordinarily effective in this regard, because they have allowed basic theoretical predictions to be formally and rigorously tested.  In doing so, Chris has been able to highlight the effectiveness of various stratigraphical indicators and mapping techniques, while at the same time forcing modelers to address the inherent uncertainties of the stratigraphic record.

Chris Paola, you are an extraordinarily creative scientist and a broad thinker.  For your wide-ranging research at all scales, and your great experimental acumen, the Geological Society of London is pleased to award you the Lyell Medal, 2011.

Chris Paola replied:

Thank you for awarding me the Lyell Medal.  Reading the Principles of Geology for examples of how Lyell’s ideas and observations can be seen in our experimental work has also made it clear what a humbling award this is.  

The advances you attribute to me have been possible only through collaboration with many people.  My longest-running collaborations have been with, in chronologic order, Paul Heller, Gary Parker, David Mohrig, Vaughan Voller, and Efi Foufoula-Georgiou.  These are people with whom I have shared ideas for many years, and for whom I have deep affection and admiration.  I have also been extremely fortunate in my students and postdocs; I will not name them all, but they are the heart of my academic family.  The citation also mentions the “Jurassic Tank” experimental facility that has been my main research activity for many years.  That facility could never have been built without lead designers Chris Ellis and Jim Mullin; or if the leaders of St Anthony Falls Laboratory, at the time a part of Civil Engineering, had stuck within the boundaries of their discipline. 

Thanking these people reminds me that there has been no greater or more pleasant surprise in my career than to discover how collaborative the practice of scientific research really is.  Some of this is the result of our interconnected world, but some is simply the nature of what we do.  Focusing on the world around us forces us to create a shared language; working on complex problems forces us to use that language to learn from each other.  It’s a long way from the Hollywood image of the crazy loner in his laboratory! We are fortunate to work in a time and an enterprise in which it is so easy, so natural, and so productive to develop ideas together.  Awards go to individuals because there’s no practical alternative, but the advances arise from a research ecosystem that is greater than any of us.  I feel lucky to be part of it, and I thank you once again. 


Murchison Medal - Bruce Watson

The Society medal named for Sir Roderick Impey Murchison goes this year to an experimenter and geochemist whose work on the mineral phases and chemical evolution deep within the Earth has helped to form a clearer picture of deep-Earth systems, and create more accurate models of their evolution over geological time.

Bruce Watson, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, and a laureate of the Geological Society of America, the Geochemical Society and the American Geophysical Union.  He is principally interested in the behaviour of Earth materials and synthetic analogues under the pressure and temperature conditions of the deep crust and upper mantle, and in charting ways in which their chemical composition and mineral phases have changed through geological time by volcanic activity and other processes – defining a kind of “materials science for the Earth”.

It will come as no surprise then that this work involves designing and building experiments that can simulate the enormous pressures and temperatures down to 150 kilometres.  His array of top-end experimental kit really is impressive, including SEM and electron microprobe analysis, scanning confocal microscopy, vibrational and electronic spectroscopy, cathodoluminescence, beta-track autoradiography, gamma ray spectroscopy, Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy and nuclear reaction analysis.

Using these tools, Bruce has been able to study a variety of processes that operate in the deep crust and upper mantle.  These include the flow of melts and fluids, how atoms migrate in crystals and melts, the rates at which crystals grow, dissolve and take up trace elements at grain boundaries.  Bruce has also made forays into phenomena related to the study of climate change, notably the climate proxies.

Bruce Watson, a unifying theme in your wide-ranging research has been the drive to reach a deeper understanding of the processes that redistribute chemical elements and their isotopes in the solid Earth at scales ranging from micron to kilometres.  It is our pleasure therefore to award you the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London.

Bruce Watson replied:

I am deeply honoured to be recognised by the world’s oldest national geological society with a medal established in the name of so distinguished a geologist as Sir Roderick Murchison.  I feel a certain connection to the Geological Society and to Murchison himself: he was a countryman of my Scottish ancestors and a contemporary of the distinguished American geologist Amos Eaton, who (like Murchison) worked on Silurian rocks.  In Eaton’s case the rocks were in the state of my current residence (New York), and he described them while mapping the route for the famous Erie Canal.  In 1824, Eaton founded the Rensselaer School where I have worked for 34 years, and was visited there by Sir Charles Lyell in 1841.

As hinted at in my citation, I have conducted research on quite a number of topics up to this point in my career.  This has led to the suggestion that my science lacks focus, but in my own mind the connections among my various research passions are immediate and clear.  The equilibrium and kinetic phenomena that I investigate do not recognise the artificial categories and adjectives we geochemists use to describe ourselves: high-temperature v.  low-temperature, hard rock v.  soft rock, isotopes v.  trace elements, and the like.  Cultivation of a perspective that centres on geochemical and geological processes is one way to cut across the traditional boundaries in our science, and I have found in this perspective a rich treasure trove of ideas—a few of which have been good.

As a graduate student at MIT and a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Lab, I was extraordinarily fortunate in having mentors—Fred Frey, John Dickey, Stan Hart, Hat Yoder—who were both generous with their time and patient with a naïve young scientist who was convinced that the Earth’s grand geochemical secrets could be illuminated by performing experiments in millimetre-sized containers.  These individuals provided a stimulating intellectual environment and the wisdom of their perspectives.  And, for better or for worse, they also granted me a great deal of freedom to explore. 

Working alongside outstanding students and colleagues at Rensselaer, I’ve have been able to sustain that exploration for more than three decades.  This would not have been possible without the forbearance and understanding of my wife Susan and my son Jonah.  I thank them above all others for their support over the years, and I thank the Geological Society for placing me in the extraordinary company of the previous recipients of the Murchison Medal.


William Smith Medal - Robert Stuart Haszeldine

The medal named for the legendary William Smith, Earth sciences’ “head of profession”, goes this year to Stuart Haszeldine of the University of Edinburgh School of Geosciences.

It is hard, given the constraints imposed by the format of an awards ceremony with a fixed beginning and end, to do justice to a body of work that is at the same time so unified and yet in implications so varied, with important practical application to pressing questions of our time, as that performed by Stuart Haszeldine. 

For the last 20 years his world-leading diagenetic research group at Edinburgh University has been instrumental in developing novel analytical techniques and conceptual models of the way in which porosity, permeability and pore fluids evolve during burial.  This work has had, and continues to have, far-reaching implications for many aspects of humankind’s interaction with the geosphere.  The most obvious area of application has for many years been hydrocarbon exploration and production.  However, porosity and permeability are no less significant for the emerging field of carbon capture and storage – a subject dear to my own heart – and to the geological disposal of radioactive wastes.

Stuart’s research highlights include: using ion microprobe and laser techniques to analyse trace-element signatures in cements, and thus reconstruct the history of pore-fluid movements; characterising the growth of illite clays in pore networks, so improving our ability to predict reservoir quality; showing how oil migration inhibits porosity loss, and allows some formations to remain effective reservoirs at depth; developing new concepts of diagenetic mass-transfer within basins during very deep burial; using mineralogy to reconstruct past and present groundwater movement at putative radioactive waste disposal sites; quantifying the seepage mechanism from natural carbon dioxide reservoirs, and testing natural tracers as possibly useful monitoring tools at projected CO2 storage sites.  I’m pleased to report that throughout these developments, Stuart has retained a proper respect for the fundamentals of sedimentary petrography dinned into him by ferocious instruction during his undergraduate studies.

As a result of this work, Stuart has contributed hugely to the initiative to capture and sequester carbon, he has built one of the UK’s most significant research groups on that subject, and acts as an active member of DECC’s Science Advisory Group, and adviser to Departments of state charged with examining carbon abatement technologies on both sides of the Scottish border.

Stuart Haszeldine, for your superb contribution to theoretical and applied geology, please accept the William Smith Medal of The Geological Society of London.


Stuart Haszeldine replied:

Thank you Mr President for those very kind words.  And of course thank you, as well, for the discipline and education in extreme enthusiasm which you manage to inject during your own teaching, many years ago.   My career has often used micro-mineralogy to study what is not there - the pores in sedimentary rocks.

In accepting this medal, I am very conscious that the work which is recognized here today, could not have been achieved without the support of many other people.  I'd like to mention my wife Aislinn, and also my father, here today.  And I'd like to thank professional colleagues - particularly Dr Mark Wilkinson at the University of Edinburgh, who has maintained a commendable scepticism in the face of my wilder fantasies regarding sediment mineralogy; Professor Tony Fallick of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre for teaching the importance of accurate laboratory measurements, and Professor Mike Russell, one of my earliest mentors (and a recipient of the William Smith Medal in 2009) for teaching me to be sceptical of established orthodoxy.

Finally I would like to reinforce the President's comments about the importance of applying scientifically based evidence to help with practical problems in the geological sciences, and for the evidence-base used by industrial practitioners, or by policy decision-makers.  I've been attracted to work on problems at that crossover boundary throughout my career, whether those problems be of commercial hydrocarbon extraction, or of politically difficult radioactive waste disposal. 

And most recently in my own work, the environmentally essential challenge of engineering to capture CO2 from power stations and give it a decent and permanent burial.  And the geoengineering challenge to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and recarbonise soil for improved food growth by means of biochar charcoal.   

Using  geo-technologies to reduce greenhouse gases is a new item for publics and politicians to understand.  Geological sciences’ understanding of deep time shows us that improving our chances of species’ survival into the far future requires very quick actions, now.

Mr President, thank you for this Medal.  I hope to maintain the tradition of William Smith by giving practical advice, which although not always popular, is correct.


Coke Medal - Jon Paul Davidson

The first of this year’s medals dedicated to the memory of the Coke brothers goes to Jon Paul Davidson of Durham University, the institution from which he first graduated in 1981.

Jon did his PhD at Leeds with Marje Wilson and Bob Cliff on the petrogenesis of the Lesser Antilles Island Arc Magmas.  Since then, during a highly successful early career in the US (culminating in a tenured position at UCLA, where he was also vice-chair)  his main contribution has been in isotope geochemistry as applied to igneous petrogenesis and arc magmatism – a field in which he is now an acknowledged international expert.  His early work, using isotope geochemistry to investigate crustal contamination of arc magmas in the Lesser Antilles and the Andean Central Volcanic Zone, led, in the early to mid 1990s, to a series of highly cited papers that unraveled the complex interplay between magma ascent, storage and contamination by crustal rocks.

Jon was duly awarded the Wager Medal of the International Association for Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior in 1998.  He has since pioneered the study of single-crystal isotope geochemistry to help tell the story of complex crystallisation histories and residence times of magma in the lithosphere.  This work has forced petrologists to reassess the timescales at which magmatic processes operate, and has led to a significant improvement in our understanding of the relationship between rock textures, crystallisation rates and isotope systematic at the mineral scale.

Freshman PhD students do not as a rule publish their first journal paper in Nature, but Jon was an exception.  He has since published over 80 peer-reviewed papers, which have no doubt bolstered his impressive record in attracting support from research funding agencies.

Jon Davidson, please accept the Coke Medal of the the Geological Society of London.


Jon Davidson replied:

I am deeply honoured by the award of the Major John Coke Medal by the Geological Society, not least because previous recipients include close friends and mentors such as Marge Wilson and Chris Hawkesworth. 

I have been extremely lucky in my career.  My PhD time at Leeds was at a time when isotope geochemistry was beginning to shape our new understanding of petrogenesis, and I was thrown in with an amazing stable of postgrads that have subsequently formed something of an academic diaspora, running oil companies and Earth Science Departments across the world.  Myself, I left for the ‘States where I got to begin my love affair with the Andes and exercise my technological interests helping to build labs at Michigan and UCLA. 

I have always managed to work on problems that I enjoy – mainly figuring out how volcanic systems work - and I still get excited by these challenges, even if I can’t get funding for them.  I have worked in some amazing places around the world such as Iran, Antarctica and Ascension Island and simultaneously encountered colleagues and students from whom I have learned so much, and whose company I enjoy. 

Winning an award – not that I make a habit of it – is always an opportunity to thank those who have embellished the record on one’s behalf, and who deserve a great deal of credit for the work that is being recognised.  Special thanks here to Marge Wilson, Mike Dungan, Alex Halliday and Art Montana who mentored me at various stages.  My ex students, who are now shaping the agenda in their own academic careers, have been a joy to work with and my current students and colleagues at Durham continue to make work fun.  Finally thanks to my family, for encouraging and supporting me – and especially my wonderful wife Donna, who I dragged from Southern California to Northern England so that I could join the UK geological community. 


Coke Medal - Christopher Brian Stringer

The recipient of our second medal dedicated to the brothers Coke is an outstanding scientist and populariser in the highly competitive field of palaeoanthropology – Chris Stringer. 

Chris occupies that special ecological niche known as “well-known public scientist”, through his series of popular books, beginning in 1993 with “In search of the Neanderthals” co-written with C.  Gamble, and culminating in the highly successful 2006 book, “Homo britannicus” and his just-published “The Origin of Our Species”.  These books have all grown out of a distinguished research career that since 1973 has been spent in the Natural History Museum, London, and which straddles the interfaces of human origins, genetics, archaeology and prehistory.

Chris’s research began in the Mendips and the Gower Peninsula, but developed an international dimension from an early stage.  Both the general public (through his books), and his fellow researchers (through his papers), now think of him principally in connection with two fields.  One is elucidating the true nature of the Neanderthals, and their relationship to our own ancestors.  The other is documenting (and radically rewriting) the history of the early human colonisation of the British Isles.

Chris was involved with the important discovery of Middle Pleistocene hominoid remains in Boxgrove, Sussex, and more recently has led several projects on the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain and Europe, which have attracted £3 million in support from the Leverhulme Trust, and have pushed back the arrival of humans in Britain to more than 800,000 years ago.  Chris is currently helping to lead an NERC-funded consortium project called RESET, bringing together scientists from many disciplines to test theories concerning the influence of abrupt climate change on human development and dispersal.

Chris Stringer, it is my pleasure to award you the Coke Medal of The Geological Society of London.

Chris Stringer replied:

Thank you so much for that generous tribute Mr President, and thank you to Council for granting me this honour. You mentioned that I have worked at the interface of human origins, genetics, archaeology and prehistory, and Quaternary geology has always been an important component of that work, especially in the valuable collaborations that have been so vital to the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain projects. My interest in geology was there as an eight year-old at my junior school in East Ham, fostered by my teacher Mr Moore, who had a geology degree, and those venerable BBC Radio broadcasts ‘How Things Began’, with accompanying reconstructions by Maurice Wilson, who I was meet and work with some 30 years later at the Natural History Museum. 

In terms of my core research interest in palaeoanthropology, geology is of vital importance, and I have engaged in fruitful collaborations with colleagues such as sedimentologists and geochronologists, whether in trying to pin down the age of the earliest Britons at Happisburgh in Norfolk, or in mapping the spread of modern humans out of Africa. I have been very fortunate in my choice of collaborators (and it is good to see one of them - Heiko Pälike - also here to receive an award), from dating specialists like Rainer Grün to archaeologists like Nick Ashton, and a significant chunk of this medal should go to all of them, too.

Finally, you mentioned the funds we have raised for the AHOB projects, and the great news is that a private foundation has generously granted us a further £1.5 million to continue the work of AHOB, and several Human Origins projects as well. So on that pleasing note, I would like to finish by again thanking the Society for this wonderful award.


Aberconway Medal - Rebecca Jane Lunn

The stated aim of the Aberconway Medal is “to recognise distinction in the practice of geology with special reference to work in industry”, and this year it is awarded to Professor Rebecca Lunn of the Department of Civil Engineering at Strathclyde University, in Glasgow.

Rebecca Lunn is a hydrogeologist who has performed seminal, novel and innovative research investigating flow and transport systems in the shallow crust for characterisation of uncertainty in nuclear waste disposal and carbon sequestration, and for mitigation of financial risk in hydrocarbon exploitation.  She is well known for her highly multi-disciplinary approach, deploying techniques from across the fields of geology, microbiology, geophysics and engineering.  Recent research has included the development of new microseismic monitoring methods to image fracture flow at depths of several kilometers, the statistical characterisaton of fault zone architecture from field data, the numerical hydro-mechanical modeling of faults and their spatial and temporal permeability evolution, and the application of microbially-mediated mineral precipitation for fracture sealing.

Her research is notable for the success with which it has combined developing concepts using strong fundamental science, with applying those concepts to finding solutions to economically and environmentally relevant issues and problems.  Industry has been quick to recognise this, and she has attracted considerable funding from a wide range of sponsors.  She has also been recognised by research councils and by government (via its agency the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management) as a true leading light in the hydrogeology of complex subsurface environments.

Dr Lunn is currently leading an EPSRC consortium on “Biogeochemical Applications in Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Disposal”, investigating, with researchers in five other UK institutions, new approaches to inhibiting radionuclide migration in rocks and soils based on biomineralisation processes mediated by microbes.  This work will undoubtedly make a significant addition to our understanding of this complex Earth system.

Rebecca Lunn, please accept The Aberconway Medal of The Geological Society of London.

Rebecca Lunn replied:

It has been the most delightful surprise to find myself in receipt of the Aberconway Medal.  My venture into Earth Sciences began in 1997 when, as a lecturer in hydrogeology, I joined the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Edinburgh University.  As a young groundwater engineer, I was surrounded by eminent geologists and geophysicists, who used a language that I struggled to penetrate – my first purchase after joining the Department was the Oxford Dictionary of Earth Sciences! I persevered, ascending a steep learning curve, in both geology and geophysics, which has changed my research career.  The three years I spent at Edinburgh opened my eyes to new and exciting opportunities for research on the interfaces between the geosciences and engineering, and I am still collaborating today with researchers I met at that time.  

I left Edinburgh in 2000, to join the Department of Civil Engineering at Heriot-Watt University and then moved to the University of Strathclyde in 2005.  My research is centered on strong collaborative relationships with an inspiring group of individuals in the fields of structural geology - Zoe Shipton, geomicrobiology - Vernon Phoenix and seismology - Stella Pytharouli.  My research aims to shed new light on industry challenges, such as geological disposal and carbon storage: most recently this has led to the development of a new methodology for microseismic monitoring of induced seismicity that provides the first images of flowing fracture planes at 3 km depth. 

In 2008, I was appointed as the expert hydrogeologist on the UK Committee for Radioactive Waste Management.  This has given me an unparalleled opportunity to understand the needs of the radioactive waste industry and to bridge the gaps between industry, UK Research Councils and academia. 

To conclude, I feel particularly honored to receive this medal at a time when geologists and engineers are breaking down the barriers between their disciplines.  The ability to take cutting edge geoscience and engineering research, and to develop it to a level of industrial application is a challenging, yet vital, component of achieving sustainable UK economic growth.  It is indicative of our changing world, and the importance of geology to the engineering industry, that I am both the first woman, and I think the first engineer, to receive the Aberconway Medal.  I am sure I will not be the last.

Bigsby Medal - Alexander Logan Densmore

Alex Densmore is an Earth scientist who comfortably straddles the boundaries of geology, geomorphology and geophysics.  His research encompasses geomorphic responses to active tectonics, erosion and sediment supply in active regions, quantitative modelling of landscape evolution and recently, debris-flow hazards in mountainous landscapes.

Alex’s early work looked at the role of landslides in shaping mountain landscapes, with a now justly famous and much-cited 1998 paper with Mike Ellis and Bob Anderson.  This work was extended to examine the ways in which landsliding influenced landscapes in the Basin & Range; determining what the topographic fingerprints of those slides are, and how landsliding affects sediment flux from uplifting fault blocks.  He then moved on to working out how fault growth influences landscapes, showing how different stages in the growth and linkage of fault structures affect topography.  This work has had a huge influence on how we read the landscape for its underlying tectonic processes.

Alex then extended his work on the Basin& Range’s tectonics and geomorphology to consider the integrated catchment-fan systems of eastern California.  Here he developed a numerical model of the way tectonics and surface processes were coupled, and was able to constrain the history of fan development using cosmogenic radionuclide dating.  This work has profoundly influenced our understanding of - and feeling for - landscapes’ transient responses to perturbation by tectonics and climate.

Recently, Alex has been working in western China’s Sichuan Province, where he recognised the fault system along which the 12 May 2008 Sichuan earthquake occurred.  His work now underpins the understanding of the active geology of this region, and led to his being awarded a NERC Urgency Grant.

Alex Densmore, you are indeed a worthy recipient of the Society’s Bigsby Medal for 2011.


Alex Densmore replied:

It is an unexpected honour to be chosen to receive the Bigsby Medal, and I am very grateful to the Society for their recognition.  Perhaps the best aspect of this award is that it gives me an all-too-rare chance to express my thanks to the mentors who have shaped my career.  The right mentor can play such an important role, and I have been fortunate indeed to come in contact with some exceptionally clever, personable, and patient scientists.  Kerry Sieh found me muddling along as an undergraduate and first showed me how the landscape holds clues to the tectonic events that have shaped it; he ignited a curiosity about the fingerprint of active tectonics that is still with me today.  Robert Anderson unlocked for me the power of mathematics as a tool for understanding those landscapes, and taught me to see the imprint of physical processes in the patterns around us.  Michael Ellis, more than anyone else, taught me how to be a scientist – how to ask questions, to debate, to explore the language of our craft, and to see the beauty and elegance of knowledge.  And Philip Allen took a chance on me as a fledgling lecturer, perceiving somehow that I could fill a role that I was in no way prepared for.  He also showed me to see the physical world in a holistic sense, emphasising always the connections to be made across time and space rather than the boundaries or barriers.  But all of this guidance would have been lost on me if not for the presence and support of my wife Melissa.  She, more than anyone, has kept me grounded, inspired, and always keen to come home from the field.


R H Worth Prize - Peter Kennett

The R H Worth Prize is awarded to those geologists who have done most to encourage others to take an interest in this fascinating science of ours.  This year, we honour one who has made a huge contribution to generating enthusiasm through the medium of teaching – Peter Kennett.

Peter has taught geology for 33 years, and many of his pupils have gone on to become geologists, both professional and amateur, and teachers and - in one case at least - as a teacher of teachers.  He has written co-authored or edited well over 100 teaching materials, textbooks and articles, including the Earth Science Teachers’ Association’s “Science of the Earth” series.

He co-founded the Earth Science Education Unit at Keele University, conducting workshops for science teachers there and still serving as an adviser and facilitator.  This work has taken him all over the UK, as well as to Spain, Australia, Chile and the USA.  As one of the three who developed the EarthLearningIdea initiative for the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth, he was instrumental in publishing a new teaching activity, particularly aimed at developing countries, each week during 2008 and now continuing fortnightly.

Peter has been a prominent examiner for Geology A-level, has travelled the world flying the flag for ESTA and contributed many articles to its journal, Teaching Earth Sciences.  He developed the geological activities of Ecton Hill Field Studies Association and regularly leads field trips there - much as he also does for the Friends of Porter Valley in Sheffield, and for Science Week walks, examining shopfronts and gravestones and visiting local primary schools.

Peter Kennett, your role is and has been a vital one; and it gives me great pleasure to acknowledge that role this year, in the award of the Society’s R H Worth Prize.


Wollaston Fund - Heiko Pälike

Heiko Pälike, winner of the Society’s Wollaston Fund, is one of the outstanding scientists of his generation. 

Heiko’s research combines a fundamental mathematical understanding of orbital mechanics and its application to forcing of climate, with active gathering and interpretation of palaeo-climate data.  An early paper, written with Wollaston Medallist the late Nick Shackleton in 2000, demonstrates how geological data can be used to calibrate astronomical parameters.  Six years later, another paper provided elegant demonstration of the power of astronomically tuned records to reveal the mechanisms controlling climate change at a whole range of timescales. 

Heiko is not content just to use the observations of others and has participated in several ocean drilling expeditions.   He has made a range of fundamental contributions, led major international scientific expeditions and contributed at a high level to the administration of international science.

Heiko Pälike, please accept the Wollaston Fund of the Society. 


William Smith Fund - Daniel Le Heron

The William Smith Fund this year goes to Dr Daniel Le Heron. 

Dan is a geologist who successfully bridges the gap between academia and industry, specialising in glacigenic reservoirs, particularly in North Africa.  His research interests centre on glacigenic rocks, particularly those formed by the late Ordovician ice sheets that covered much of what is now North Africa.  He combines an understanding of the seismically imaged subsurface with critical knowledge of the surface exposures of reservoir units or their equivalents, in remote and challenging areas. 

Already a recognised international expert, his papers on the North African late Ordovician glaciation are published in top international journals, and he has also broadened his scope by considering the generic aspects of glaciation and hydrocarbon accumulation.  Much in demand as a field leader, his trips characteristically and imaginatively integrate sedimentological and stratigraphic observations from surface exposures with subsurface datasets. 

Dan, please accept the Society’s William Smith Fund for 2011.


Lyell Fund - Emily Jayne Rayfield

Emily Jayne Rayfield, winner of this year’s Lyell Fund, is a palaeobiologist who has brought a new level of rigour to the analysis of vertebrate functional morphology – working out how animals lived by understanding how their bodies worked.  Her research focuses on how skeletal mechanics influenced evolution, and how form and function are related (mainly, though not exclusively, within the vertebrate skull).

She makes great use of the engineering technique of Finite Element Analysis, which enables her to work out the stresses and strains on skeletons as they function.  She uses this technique to test competing hypotheses and to quantify functional and ecological changes through lineages, with important implications for such evolutionary events as the origin of birds and mammals.  She has recently carried out Finite Element validation studies on living birds to see how accurately her own models approach reality.

Emily Rayfield, please accept the Lyell Fund of The Geological Society.


Murchison Fund - Sarah Sherlock

Sarah Sherlock, winner of the Murchison Fund, Senior Research Fellow at the Open University, is an international leader in the field of Ar/Ar laserprobe geochronology.  Her research programme has developed rapidly and attracted million-pound funding from NERC and the hydrocarbon industry. 

Sarah’s research is focused on developing new approaches to the dating of minerals using the Ar/Ar system.  Her PhD work in Turkey produced several influential papers, which were followed by a steady stream of further papers applying these new techniques – including one that won her the Young Author of Year Award for this Society’s Journal in 2001. 

Sarah has made a notable contribution to determining the precise age of regional cleavage development within the North Wales slate belt through her analysis of syn-kinematic pure muscovite strain-fringes around pyritized graptolites.

Sarah Sherlock, please accept the Society’s Murchison Fund for 2011.

Distinguished Service Award - Gerald Joseph Home McCall

The Society’s Distinguished Service Award goes this year to Dr Joe McCall.

It will amaze many to know that Joe actually retired in 1991, after a long career spent mainly overseas in Kenya and Australia.  However most people today associate his name with our Fellowship magazine, Geoscientist, on whose Editorial Board he is the longest-serving member, having been involved with more than 200 issues.  To this day, Joe also proof-reads the second proof of every issue as the Editor’s “second pair of eyes”. 

Joe has always been inspired by the idea that Earth scientists work in restricted specialist fields and need to have other fields interpreted for them.  His particular “beat” however is very wide, embracing the Archaean, Vendian/Ediacaran fossils (about which he published a 229-page monograph in 2006), hominid research in the Rift Valley, carbonatites, caldera volcanoes, mass extinctions, plate tectonics, environmental geology, diamond  and gold occurrences, meteoritics (including impact processes and tektites), planetology, asteroids, comets and “exoplanets”.

During his years with Geoscientist he has commissioned contributions from colleagues (Patrick Moore included), especially from Australia.  Joe has written a number of review volumes for the Society, and edited several Special Publications.   In 1997 he helped convene a Fermor meeting on meteoritics, the last at which Gene Shoemaker appeared before his tragic death in Australia.  Joe was also lead editor for SP140 arising from it.  Joe then joined the History of Geology Group (HOGG), and organised a meeting on the History of Meteoritics in 2004 at the Natural History Museum, and was lead editor of SP256.  He also wrote a Society book about tektites, Showers of Glass from the Sky, published by in 2001.

In 2005 he was brought onto the editing team of the Elsevier Encylopaedia of Geology as Consulting Editor and reviewed 100 articles - besides writing 16 entries himself and covering extraterrestrial aspects of Earth science.

Now, still prolifically active in his 91st year,  Joe continues to set the pace for the rest of us in his contributions to the Society’s meetings and publications, especially its Fellowship magazine. 

Joe, please accept the 2011 Distinguished Service Medal.

President’s Award - Michele Paulatto

It gives me particular pleasure to give the first President's Award to Dr Michele Paulatto, who is currently a postdoctoral research associate at Oxford University.  Michele is a particularly promising young geophysicist who after completing his Masters degree in Trieste under Professor Giuliano Panza and Dr Fabio Romanelli, enrolled for a PhD at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton to work with Professor Tim Minshull and Dr Tim Henstock of NOCS, as well as Dr Brian Baptie of BGS and - someone else about whom we will hear more at the opposite end of this ceremony - Professor Steve Sparks of Bristol.  This project, which involved studying the 3D seismic tomography of Montserrat, probed the interior of that active volcano, and led to the award of a doctorate this April.

Michele, your PhD and six published papers have already marked you out as a highly promising young researcher, and it gives me great pleasure to recognise that fact today.



President’s Award - John Frederick Rudge

The second President’s Award this year goes to a bright young scientist with a strong background in continuum mechanics and statistics – John Rudge.  John did his PhD in Cambridge on the effect of melting and convective stirring on the statistical distribution of trace elements and isotope composition in magmas – particularly important research for our understanding of deep-Earth dynamics.  Subsequent highly original work by him on the so-called “mantle isochrons” is already being hailed as a modern classic of mantle geochemistry.  His mathematical background, combined with an eager involvement in geology, has enabled him to guide some of us to plausible mechanisms for the control of rapid changes in surface elevation by heterogeneity in mantle convection.  He also made sure that we got our stratigraphy right before he did the sums.

John Rudge, you are one of the most promising scientists in your field and it gives me great pleasure to present you with this recognition today.




Citations by Ted Nield and Bryan Lovell