Laureation address: Professor Sir Alex Halliday FRS

Lauren Sykes
Friday 16 June 2023

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science
Laureation by Professor Richard White, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Friday 16 June 2023

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, Professor Sir Alexander Norman Halliday.

Sir Alex gained a BSc in Geology and a PhD in 1977, both from Newcastle University, and has held senior positions at the Universities of Michigan, ETH Zurich, and Oxford. In 2017 he was appointed as the Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and is currently the Founding Dean of the Columbia Climate School, which drives research into our planet’s greatest challenge, climate change, by bringing together members and partners from all disciplines, including the Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, and the Arts.

Sir Alex has been a scientific pioneer in the application of isotope mass spectrometry to Earth science. Much of Sir Alex’s research into isotopic systems came at a time of both burgeoning technical and conceptual developments in mass spectrometry; a notable number of which were driven by Sir Alex and his research collaborators. Sir Alex’s research work, encompassing more than 400 published papers, several seminal studies utilising novel isotopic systems to shed light on the birth and early development of our solar system, the interior workings of the Earth, and the processes that affect Earth’s surface environment.

Many of his developments in understanding new isotopic systems have become critical to ongoing research to understand our planet. His work has become central to Earth science research around the world and the prominence of isotope mass spectrometry methods in unravelling the mysteries of the past, in the processes that drive the present, and in the impact of global change for the future cannot be underestimated. High-precision mass spectrometry facilities have become critical analytical facilities for many Earth science institutes, including St Andrews own world-leading facilities, which were in fact opened by Sir Alex in 2016.

His scientific achievements have been recognised through numerous awards, including the Murchison Medal of the Geological Society, the Bowen Award and Hess Medal of the American Geophysical Union, the Urey Medal of the European Association of Geochemistry, and the Oxburgh Medal of the Institute of Measurement and Control.

Throughout his career Sir Alex has worked tirelessly in support of the Earth Sciences in government and society. In particular, he has chaired and participated in numerous funding and advisory boards, including the Natural Environment Research Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Natural History Museum, the Max Planck Society, and the American Geophysical Union. He is a Fellow of the UK’s Royal Society and an International Member of the American National Academy of Sciences. Sir Alex received his knighthood for services to science and innovation in 2019.

Sir Alex Halliday stands as an exemplar for how broadly a scientist can influence both their specific field but also decision making and policy in science funding, and government.

Chancellor, in recognition of his major contributions to Earth science, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, on Professor Sir Alexander Halliday.

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