Geological Society of London awards 2005:

William Smith Medal – Robert Knipe


The William Smith Medal, awarded to excellence in applied geology, goes this year to Rob Knipe of the University of Leeds, whose contribution to applied geology has been truly exceptional.

Rob Knipe has probably done more to weld academic and industrial geology together than anyone of his generation. He has created and managed Rock Deformation Research Ltd., a University spinout that occupies the middle ground between academe and industry. This innovative company takes an empirical and modelling approach to structural problems and the prediction of fault behaviour. Their detailed and multidisciplinary approach is underpinned by outstanding science and is hugely respected within the industry.

For the last 25 years, Rob has been researching the physical and chemical behaviour of rocks during deformation, and has pioneered the use of microstructural analysis and its integration into larger-scale tectonic evolution.

At Leeds University, RDR makes a huge contribution; not only by being one of the UK’s largest employers of structural geologists (over 20 geoscientists on the payroll) but also by the continuous cross fertilization between itself and the School of Earth and Environment. Despite the demands of his industrial work, Rob has published over 80 papers, supervised over 25 PhD students and maintains a deep commitment to training industry personnel.

Rob Knipe, you are indeed a worthy recipient of the William Smith Medal of the Geological Society.

Rob Knipe replied:

Thank you, Mr. President, Fellows and Ladies and Gentlemen. It is indeed an honour to receive this award – thank you.

As always an individual’s recognition is never from a solo achievement. In my case many people have contributed and helped with my involvement with structural geology. I would not have engaged with deformation studies without Bill Fitches enthusing me as an undergraduate at Aberystwyth, or the structural geology group at IC in the mid 70s (Neville Price, Ernie Rutter, John Cosgrove, and Rick Sibson and Stan White) giving me the detailed foundation in deformation mechanisms and structural geology I needed.

Probably the greatest influence on my structural geology was Mike Coward – sadly no longer with us, but Mike’s drive, ability, insight and need to integrate everything on all scales at frequent intervals was inspirational.

You mentioned the RDR group that I have created in Leeds and the links we have forged with industry. The driver for that was the unique opportunity to use the phenomenal data sets industry collects (from seismic to core) as a platform to integrate structural geology to understand faulting processes, deformation and flow processes.

The challenge was, of course, to solve the problems industry presented to us, knowing that they would rapidly test our suggestions. We have been happy to help own the faults in the industry, and it turned out to be great way to do science.

This would not have been possible without the support and trust of a large number of people in industry. The result has been consortium projects, joint academic – industry programmes and exchanges, that have highlighted the benefits of close collaborations.

I thank all those in industry, and all at RDR who have helped with this adventure. Also, I would like to acknowledge those at Leeds, Howel Francis and Jim Briden for giving me a job in ’79, and Joe Cann, and Bruce Yardley for support while we grew.

Rick Groshong published a statement I once made at a conference in N. America that ‘Rocks do not suffer strain – they enjoy it’. I am glad to say I still enjoying understanding that enjoyment.

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