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Bristol scientist honoured by Royal Society

Press release issued: 21 May 2002

Media release
Bristol scientist honoured by Royal Society

An earth scientist at Bristol University has achieved the rare distinction of being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. The Society is the world's oldest scientific academy and has been at the forefront of enquiry and discovery since its foundation in 1660. Past and present members include Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Francis Crick, and Stephen Hawking.

Professor Christopher Hawkesworth is distinguished for his unique contributions to geochemistry. In particular, his work has greatly helped in understanding what happens inside volcanoes before they erupt. The chemistry of the magma inside a volcano determines how violent the eruption will be.

More recently, he has turned his geochemical expertise to analysing records of climate change over the last 150,000 years, with particular emphasis on high precision age dating of these events. Sediments found in caves contain a number of indicators, such as pollen, that are particularly sensitive to changes in temperature and weather. Looking at the chemistry of these indicators enables geoscientists to date climate changes very precisely. A good understanding of the timing of climate change in the past will help us to recognise what is happening today.

As Professor Hawkesworth said: "What we know depends on how well we can tell time."

Professor Hawkesworth was brought up and studied in Ireland, before moving to Oxford to do his PhD. In 1980 he was invited to set up a new isotope research laboratory at the recently established Open University. He stayed there for 20 years as the department evolved to one of the finest in the country. Two years ago he was enticed away from the Open University to establish a new research group at Bristol University.

The professor's election brings to 26 the number of academics currently at Bristol University whose work has been honoured in this way, four of whom are in the Earth Sciences department alone.

Professor Eric Thomas, the Vice-Chancellor, said: "As well as being a great personal distinction for Professor Hawkesworth, this is a further reflection of the University's excellence in research."

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Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Tuesday, 21-May-2002 10:05:20 BST

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