Professor Michael Brooks (1936-2017)

13 October 2017

Professor Michael Brooks

We regret to report the death of Professor Michael Brooks.

Mike was born in Crewe from a railway family. He graduated in BSc Geology and then, subsequently, at Birmingham University completed his PhD on interpreting the geophysical results of gravity and magnetic surveys of the Malvern Hills. In 1960 he took up his first employment as a geophysicist with what is now the British Geological Survey. Mike then moved to a lecturing post at University College, Swansea, starting a completely new PhD geophysics research group at the Department. Mike was subsequently appointed Professor of Geology at University College Cardiff and Head of the Department in 1977. Mike took early retirement from Cardiff in 1993.

The 1970s was a time of great change in global Earth Sciences with the plate tectonic revolution led by exciting new geophysical research techniques such as seismic reflection being applied to the geophysical exploration of global hydrocarbons.  At Cardiff, Mike faced a major task in modernising the Geology Department in all aspects, teaching, research and equipment facilities during what was a difficult period of financial turmoil. In the late 1970s and 1980s the Cardiff Geology Department became a research leader in palaeomagnetics, seismic exploration and structural geology research. Following the appointment of a team of geophysical researchers, Mike then introduced a new BSc degree in Geophysics, jointly taught with Physics. Many students graduating from the BSc Geophysics degree are now successfully employed in the global hydrocarbons industry and as researchers in numerous university research schools. Mike also supported entrepreneurial postgraduates in setting up their own successful geophysics consultancies such as the Cardiff based Terradat Ltd.

During his tenure as Head of Department, Mike saw through a series of radical changes: the UCC/UWIST merger and then internal staff transfers resulting from closure of the Department of Mineral Exploitation. He also managed the government enforced merger of Cardiff University’s Geology and Swansea University’s Geology and Ocean Sciences Departments to form the legacy of the present School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Cardiff.

Throughout this period of administrative turmoil as Head of Department, Mike was remarkable in managing to sustain his research interests, in acquiring sufficient external funds to maintain them and in meticulously publishing his results. He was very interested in applying the new digital seismic reflection techniques to explore the deep geology of the South West of the UK and also to comprehend the plate tectonics and earthquakes patterns of the eastern Mediterranean region. He also practically utilized the seismic waves produced by the daily rock blasts of numerous quarries in South Wales and Devon, by sending teams of students to sit for hours at wide-ranging locations armed with seismometers to better understand the SW region’s deep geological structure.

Perhaps Mike’s greatest passion was for updating geological education and training at all levels.  Mike radically updated the teaching programmes to reflect the research revolution. He often employed the BSc students to help with his own field research programmes, a true pioneer of ‘research-led’ teaching. On arrival at Cardiff, his interests in adopting new methods of teaching and assessment led him to volunteer the Geology Department to trial a modular system of teaching and examination, one year before its adoption by the College as a whole. Even with the arduous duties of Head of School, Mike continued to teach a flagship all year 1 module on the Structure of Earth and also advanced geophysics modules in years 2 and 3. He completely overhauled fieldwork and remained an enthusiastic promoter of taking students out into the field to learn key skills hands-on. His co-authored university level textbook on geophysical exploration (Kearey and Brooks) is highly successful; it has been published in three editions and is translated into several foreign languages.

As a pioneer of University engagement and outreach, he secured funding to appoint a project officer to develop teaching resources and INSET courses to assist primary schools with the delivery of Earth science in National Curriculum Science.

Mike was active in the Geological Society of London, becoming Chairman of the Joint Education Committee of the Society and the Institution of Geologists, and , after retirement, becoming the part time Geological Society Education and Training Officer from 1994–2001.  In this role he played a major part in setting up the accreditation scheme operated by the Geological Society for geoscience university courses. This professional accreditation scheme continues to assure that minimum days and standards of field work training are still preserved in BSc geoscience degree programmes. Without this professional accreditation, recognised as a quality mark by employers, key fieldwork skills could otherwise be reduced or even abolished in geoscience undergraduate degrees by universities anxious to reduce costs. At school level, Mike was associated with the Welsh Joint Education Committee for 25 years in connection with GCSE and AS-A Geology assessment serving variously as Chair of Examiners and Co-Chair of Curriculum Review Groups.

In addition to University duties Mike served on many Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) committees: Research Grants (1979–82); Chairman Geological Sciences Training Awards (1984–87), Earth Sciences and University Affairs (1984–87) and several working groups.  He was chairman of the South Wales Geologists’ Association Group in 1972–74. At the Geological Society, he served on Council as a Vice-President, on Specialist Groups and Publications and Editorial Board. He was also a member of the British Geological Survey Programme Board (1992–95).

As a man with enormous energy and vision, Mike was an enthusiastic, sometimes critical, friend and mentor to many. Many students remember his lectures delivered off the cuff, writing frenetically on a whiteboard with only 35mm slides to act as illustrations. His total enthusiasm for applied geophysics inspired many of his students to pursue life-long careers in the subject.  The School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Cardiff University owes a great debt of gratitude to Mike in steering the subject though a period of great revolutionary change, which has produced the research and teaching foundations of the present School. Our thoughts lie with his wife Cathie and Mike’s children.

- Dr Peter Brabham, Prof Dianne Edwards FRS, Prof Bernard Leake.