Durham Earth Sciences student wins BritRock prize


Chris Harbord MESci, a PhD student at Durham University Earth Sciences Department, has won the BritRock award for his landmark presentation on earthquakes, beating twenty other competitors. It introduced a new theory to the earthquake research community.

His talk, entitled ‘Instability of rough faults in granite’, was received with great enthusiasm at the Joint Assembly in Liverpool last Wednesday.

Chris used an entertaining narrative and animations to explain his research into the mechanics of earthquakes carried out in the Durham University Earth Sciences Department’s ‘Rock Mechanics Laboratory’.

Although GCSE textbooks make it look like we understand earthquakes, we still aren’t entirely sure how they work.

“I’d like to say that we’re getting closer to this,” he said in an interview with Palatinate SciTech.

Current theories on earthquakes argue that when certain parts of a fault between two tectonic plates move at different speeds, this leads to a build-up of stress, causing an earthquake.

Chris’s theory runs contrary to this. Based on his research, he argues that when part of a fault is already weak, this causes the stress build-up resulting in an earthquake.

“I think it’s [the theory] a really nice little paradigm shift,” he said.

This landmark research on earthquake mechanics, combined with an excellent presentation, won him the BritRock award. It’s given every year for the best talk in the rock deformation topic section.

“I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting to win it,” he said. “It’s reassuring for [my] work.”

Chris also gave his top tips for designing a successful presentation that could land you an excellent award:

“The best talks are where a bit of entertainment is included,” he said.

“You should use different forms of media to illustrate your point.”

However, most importantly, he recommends you should “enjoy it.”

“People pick up on that.”

Chris has no plans to leave the field of earthquake research. Next year he will become a ‘Doctor’ at Durham University.


Photo Credit: Chris Harbord MESci

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