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My Cardiff

Dr Peter Brabham

Dr Peter Brabham has had links with the University for more than 20 years

Dr Brabham in the Arctic Circle

Dr Brabham in the Arctic Circle

I have a long association with the University, and South Wales, being a native of the Rhondda Valley and graduating with a BSc in Geophysics from what was then University College Cardiff in 1982 (a brilliant but sadly now defunct degree then jointly taught by the departments of Geology and Physics).

After gaining my PhD from Durham University, I returned to the University in 1988 and Iíve never left.

Over the past 20 years, I have seen tremendous growth in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences. I started teaching classes of between eight and 40 in a small geology department. Now I lecture to 170 first year students in one of the largest Schools of Earth Science in the UK.

My initial research expertise was in the application of high resolution shallow seismic surveying to coal exploration. However I have branched out over the years using numerous geophysical surveying techniques such as electrical resistivity, gravity, magnetics and electromagnetics where I use the most appropriate methods for solving particular environmental problems. In applied geophysics research (unlike pure physics research) you get to dabble using all physical techniques and thatís why I find it so interesting.

Dr Brabham at Dolaucothi Gold Mine

Dr Brabham at Dolaucothi Gold Mine

As all my research is field-based, this means I have to take the equipment outdoors to far-flung places. Environmental geology means you get to see exciting places such as municipal landfill sites, derelict industrial sites and of course Welsh landslides. I am an expert on the hidden glacial geology along the remote North Wales coast. With my colleague Professor Charlie Harris Iíve also mapped permafrost in the Alps and on Svalbard in the Arctic Circle. On Svalbard you are not allowed out in the field until you have passed the polar bear survival course. This involves the use of flares, guns and a fast snow scooter!

I teach all academic years - from the first week of year one to the last week of the taught MSc. Each year offers different challenges and teaching styles. Itís been a real roller coaster ride; amazingly until 2000 we actually had our own gold mine at Dolaucothi in Carmarthenshire where we used to train students how to explore underground.

One of the great privileges of being an academic at Cardiff is that you are encouraged to integrate your research findings back into your research-led teaching. I take many student groups out on field-research training surveys in the South Wales valleys. When innovative research-led teaching then inspires your graduate and postgraduate students to develop professionally in the same subject area it is very personally rewarding.

In 1992 my first PhD student Rob McDonald and exploration graduate Nick Russill took their research training and formed the commercial company TerraDat. TerraDat has now expanded from a small two person team into a major Welsh company. Itís been fantastic watching them grow, and they now employ a large number of Cardiff geosciencesí postgraduates and graduates in their plush office in Cardiff Bay.

Our environmental research group works closely with TerraDat, and together weíre exploring new and innovative ways to quickly assess areas in South Wales that are most at risk from landslides. We not only use geophysics but also have fun flying digital cameras from Helium balloons, and develop highly detailed 3-D models of the land surface. Such detailed information is critical to understanding landslide movements.

Dr Brabham carrying out field-based research

Dr Brabham carrying out field-based research

Our research was recently rewarded at the Cardiff University Innovation Awards, where we picked up the award for Long Term Collaboration. The award was much appreciated recognition for our research collaboration in applied geophysics.

TerraDat is now giving back to the University by partly sponsoring a PhD student Alessia Taboga on our landslide project. Itís an exiting field as there have been dramatic developments in technology over the past 10 years with new geophysical equipment, improved field computing power and GPS based surveying.

University life extends partly into my spare time. I am captain of the University staff Cricket XI. This unusual all embracing University social team has meant that I have made many new friends who I would never have met otherwise, from eccentric professors to administrators, technicians and overseas postgraduates from right across the University.

When I am not working or playing cricket, I am a keen photographer especially of industrial landscapes and its associated infrastructure. I have been known to drag my long suffering wife and two daughters off to photograph narrow gauge steam engines in the slate mines of North Wales.

This other personal interest, allied with my coal geology roots has also has had another spin off. I was awarded a Richard Whipp studentship jointly with Dr Bill Jones and Dr Steve Mills in the School of History and Archaeology to study how new landscape visualization techniques can help historians better understand the landscape in which texts were originally written in South Wales. This is fun bringing old maps and photographs to life in 3D.

The problem being a University lecturer is that there are only 24 hours in a day!

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