Postdoctoral fellow wins President's Award from the Geological Society of London

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington’s Finnigan Illsley-Kemp has been awarded the 2021 President’s Award from the Geological Society of London. The award is given to early career geoscientists who show significant early promise and are judged to have potential to be future leaders in their field.

A black and white image of Finnigan sitting on a hill wearing outdoor weather gear.

The citation for the award described Finnigan as a “highly accomplished geophysicist whose skills in research, teaching, outreach and networking mark him out to be a leading scientist in years to come.”

“I’m really humbled to receive this award,” Finnigan said, “the list of award winners this year was inspiring and showed a move towards a more collegial and diverse future for Earth Science, both of which are very important to me.”

Finnigan believes his PhD supervisors at the University of Southampton, as well as Professor Martha Savage and Professor Colin Wilson from Te Herenga Waka played important roles in the build up to winning this award.

“They showed me what it means to be a great scientist but most importantly how to supervise and mentor students.”

The postdoctoral fellow from the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Science specialises in volcano-tectonic seismology which is the research of earthquake activity around volcanoes. This research provides insight into the current state of volcanos and their inner structures. During his time in New Zealand, his research group have been particularly focused on Taupō volcano and its earthquakes.

“Earthquakes and volcanoes are exciting! I enjoy geology but am particularly drawn to geological events that happen on human timescales and are happening today. Having the opportunity to research active volcanoes is a dream.”

“Volcanoes can cause very serious impacts on people and the economy. While it’s not always possible to anticipate an eruption, earthquakes are one of the best tools to try and do this. An eruption from one of our large volcanoes, like Taupō, could potentially be devastating. My research is important to understand the inner workings of these volcanoes and what signals, if any, they might give us before an eruption.”

In the future, Finnigan wants to develop new ways of studying and monitoring volcanos that are more inclusive of the communities most closely connected to them.

“We’ve been working closely with iwi scientists and communities in the central North Island. This has shown me new ways to think about these landscapes and communicate the science. There is often a disconnect between scientists and communities and I’d like to work on closing that gap. This is exciting and something quite unique to working in New Zealand.”

The School of Geography, Environment and Earth Science’s Professor Martha Savage said the award recognises the hard work that Finnigan has been doing.

“I am thrilled to see Finn get the President’s Award from the Geological Society of London. He came here for a few months in 2017 to work with me on a project during his PhD, and he has been working with us as a Postdoctoral Fellow on the geophysics of the Taupō Volcanic Zone since 2018. We have been very impressed with his innovative ideas, his productivity, and his collaborative approach to his research. He is well deserving of this award and we expect that he will continue to achieve great results through the rest of his career.”