Derek Powell (BSc 1959) Obituary

Derek Powell (BSc 1959)

Derek was awarded his Ph.D. from Aberystwyth in 1963.  Following research fellowships at Aberystwyth and then Liverpool, he became a lecturer in the Geology Department at Bedford College, University of London in 1965.  Here he stayed for over thirty years, experiencing the transfer of the department to Royal Holloway College during the early 1980s.  Throughout that time Derek was an inspiring lecturer in both structural geology and optical mineralogy; his research experience of the challenging Moine rocks combined with his marked artistic talent ensured that listener experience.  In his structural practical classes undergraduates, and frequently demonstrators, were challenged by devious mapping problems later collated into his widely read text book ‘The Interpretation of Geological Structures Through Maps’, published in 1992 and still available on Amazon!

Derek Powell

Derek Powell

Derek’s skill as a lecturer was matched by his ability as a researcher.  A recognised structural expert, he became the first secretary of the prestigious Tectonic Studies Group on its formation in 1970.  The Moine remained the focus of his research throughout his career and the subject of a series of papers from 1964 onwards.  From the mapping of the Lochailort area for his PhD he moved to more detailed structural studies, particularly the internal structure of fault and slide zones and the analysis of tectonic rotation from inclusion trails in metamorphic garnets, the latter work being influential in driving textural studies that led to modern high-resolution geochronology of garnets.  He embraced radiometric dating as a tool in elucidating tectonic history; work done in conjunction with the BGS identified Pre-Caledonian Grenvillian and Knoydartian events in the SW Moine.  He was interested in the evolution of the broader Caledonian-Appalachian system and was a contributor to the Caledonian Orogen Project.  Over the years he supervised a series of post-graduate students on a variety of Moine related topics, with whom he co-authored a number of papers.  A highlight of a (generally damp) field season would be a visit to his croft at Ardbeg, with research progress discussed at the nearby Glenuig Inn.

Occasionally, Derek did escape the Moine.  In the late 1980’s he made several trips to China to study shear zones and basement rocks in collaboration with Chinese geologists, part of a Royal Society initiative.  The work resulted in the publication of a memoir and map and Derek acquired a Chairman Mao suit in which he would appear at departmental functions!

Since his retirement, Derek and his wife Pamela have lived in Glen Moidart at the heart of Derek’s life-long research area, where they have welcomed a steady flow of visits from old colleagues and students. So, in recent years, it was in his much-loved Glen Moidart that, as his health steadily declined, Derek was cared for with great skill and tenderness by Pamela. He will stay long in the memories of many.

Rob Glendinning, Peter Banham, Clark Friend

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