This year’s William Smith Medal – named for the man responsible for the first geological map of a nation – is presented to Dr Michael de Freitas, Distinguished Research Fellow at Imperial College London.
An engineering geologist, Dr de Freitas studies the geotechnical properties of rocks and soils, and the application of geology to engineering design and construction.
He was inspired to study geology from the age of 14, when at school he noticed ‘a small box of nine rocks on a window sill. No one spoke of them, they were entirely ignored, but I was fascinated by them.
‘I was 14 and lived in London. There are no rocks down here to see, yet that box opened my eyes: we had coal at home (with a fair amount of shale) and sandstone on the windowsills, slate on the roof, granite on the curbs, flint in the garden and all manner of stones on the railway – there was rock everywhere. I was hooked.’
On his career highlights, he says ‘to be honest, I think I have been living on a high ever since I took up the subject. I am very fortunate to have been so blessed.
‘The natural processes that constitute what we call Geology, and how they interact with engineering, never fail to surprise me with their elegance.’
William Smith, after whom the medal is named, is famed for creating the first geological map of England and Wales, published in 1815. Sometimes called ‘Strata Smith’, he is also known for his use of fossils to delineate strata. Last year, the Society held a number of events celebrating the bicentenary of Smith’s map, including a talk by Sir David Attenborough.
Dr de Freitas says his reaction to being awarded the William Smith Medal is ‘great surprise, verging on amazement at the immense honour of my work being linked to a man (William Smith) infinitely better than I, and whom I have revered since my teens.’
To aspiring geologists hoping to begin their own careers, he advises ‘a good engineering geologist is first and foremost a good geologist, but it doesn’t stop there; it is absolutely important to understand the mechanics that govern the behaviour of our materials. It’s a life-long task.’
- The Awards Ceremony is taking place on 8 June at Burlington House, and is free to attend, and open to all! As well as the presentations, the day will feature talks by the Wollaston, Lyell, Murchison and William Smith medallists, and a wine reception. There will also be a lunch preceding the ceremony, at £27.50 per person.
If you would like to join us for all or part of the day, please get in touch with Stephanie Jones to register:
T: 020 7434 9944