Royal Society success
Breakthroughs on the physical structure of memory and geo-environmental engineering processes have won two Cardiff academics one of the highest honours in world science.
Professor Hywel Thomas, Director of the Geoenvironmental Research Centre, has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society, widely regarded in the UK as second only to a Nobel Prize in prestige. The Society, the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence, includes Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Professor Stephen Hawking among its past and present members.
Professor Thomas has dramatically advanced understanding of transport processes in the ground. The School of Engineering now has three Fellows. Professor Thomas, born in Llandovery, came to the School of Engineering in 1980. His research centres on highly complex movements of heat, liquids and gases through the soil. The models he has built have proved of worldwide importance in understanding thermal and physical conditions underground. Professor Thomas also created what is thought to be the world’s first research centre in this field at Cardiff.
Professor Thomas said: “We have applied this research in geo-environmental engineering, particularly in solving problems in waste management. I have worked in this area for twenty years, looking at how best to contain radioactive material deep underground. We are also setting up satellite research centres in Ghana and Nigeria to deal with problems of ground contamination, for example the case of Persistent Organic Pollutants. We are also working with the Indian Institute of Science on a sustainable groundwater project”.
Professor Thomas’ expertise has been called upon by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. He has also been appointed to a UNESCO Chair in the Development of a Sustainable Geo-environment. More recently he has been exploring the possibilities of underground heat as sources of renewable energy.
Of his Fellowship, Professor Thomas, also University Pro Vice-Chancellor, International and Engagement, said: “This really is a fantastic honour, right at the top of the scientific world. We are a relatively new field of science, which I and my colleagues at Cardiff have done much to establish, so this award is particularly pleasing”.
The Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant, said: “I warmly congratulate Professor Thomas and Professor Aggleton on their election to one of the world’s pre-eminent scientific bodies. Professor Thomas has established soil transport processes as a scientific discipline of world importance, with applications in safe waste storage and sustainable energy generation.
“For the second year running, two Cardiff academics have been elected Fellows of the Royal Society - a record very few other universities can match. I’m sure the whole University community and our many partners in Wales will share my delight that our colleagues’ accomplishments have been recognised in this way.”
Announcing this year’s new Fellows, Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society said: “Science impacts on most aspects of modern life, improving our understanding of the world and playing an increasing role as we grapple with problems such as feeding a growing global population and keeping an ageing home population healthy. These scientists who have been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society are among the world’s finest. They follow in the footsteps of luminaries such as Newton, Darwin and Einstein and I am delighted to welcome them into our ranks.”