Wednesday 11 January 2012

New president takes office

Described as a ‘true Earth scientist’, Lord Ernest Ronald Oxburgh, Fellow of The Royal Society and former Chairman of the House of Lords (British Upper House of Parliament) Science and Technology Select Committee, is the new President of the Institute of Measurement and Control from January 2012.

Lord Oxburgh, President InstMC (Pic Guardian)
Lord Oxburgh, or ‘Ron’ as he likes to be called, is widely recognised as being one of the Britain’s most influential scientists. He was knighted (KBE) in 1992 for services to science and was made a life peer (crossbench = non-party) as Baron Oxburgh of Liverpool in the Queen’s birthday honours of 1999. He served for four years as Chairman of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology until retiring in 2005 but remains involved as a co-opted member. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and a Foreign Member of the US and Australian Academies of Science. He was President of Queens’ College, Cambridge from 1982 to 1989, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence from 1987 to 1993 and Rector of Imperial College, London, from 1993 to 2001.

Born in Liverpool in 1934, Ron attended a school which was devoted to the Classics which, under pressure, he pursued for a while. However, he always held a passionate interest in how things worked and followed his desire to become a scientist by switching to geology in which he graduated at the University of Oxford in 1957 before heading for Princeton University in the US to research for his PhD. He has since become an eminent geologist and geophysicist who has taught at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and has been a visiting professor at Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology and Cornell University.

Public advocate
His main laboratory is undoubtedly ‘the great outdoors.’ His passion for the environment, climate change and energy resources has earned him widespread recognition as a public advocate in both academia and the business world in addressing the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and develop alternative energy sources. When he was Professor of Mineralogy and Petrology at Cambridge he was famous for uniting the previously warring factions of mineralogists, geophysicists and geologists to create and head up what was to become one of the most powerful Earth Sciences departments in the world. During conferment of his honorary degree of Doctor of Science at the University of Leeds in 2009, Ron was described as being “a true Earth scientist” citing his championing the need for multi-national companies to recognise their social responsibilities. His focus on the impact of science on society and his active engagement in debates on climate change, radioactive waste disposal, water resources, global development and green energy were of particular note.

Business Acumen
Outside the debating chamber, Lord Oxburgh has always strived to put his declarations on the environment into practice. While Chairman of Shell Transport and Trading Company plc his ‘fears for the planet’ and his call on the global community to reduce carbon dioxide emissions reflected his chairmanship of the organisation’s ‘Social Responsibilities Committee.’ As well as his prowess as a scientist, Ron’s business acumen is also much in demand, his biggest large-scale challenge being the unification of Shell Transport and Trading with Royal Dutch Petroleum. He retired from Shell in 2005 and went on in 2007 to win the prestigious Platts Global Life Time Achievement Award for outstanding achievement and vision in the global energy industry. He has worked as an adviser for several major national and multi-national business enterprises which currently include Deutsche Bank and the global management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. He has for many years advised the Government of Singapore on energy, environment, water, science policy and higher education.

Although enjoying his ‘sequential retirement’ (“I have retired many times,” he says), Ron’s involvement in environmental issues continues apace. In the House of Lords he is involved in energy and environment legislation; he is Honorary President of Carbon Capture and Storage Association; Chairman of 2OC – a leading new generation greentech startup – and an adviser to Climate Change Capital.

Importance of measurement
As President of The InstMC, Ron intends to promote the standing of the Institute and to enhance recognition of the importance of measurement in almost every aspect of modern life. “Science depends on the ability to conduct accurate measurements, as does running a business enterprise. With modern technologies providing high-accuracy monitoring of environmental phenomena the importance of the role of measurement in environmental situations has increased enormously,” he declares.

When he is not engrossed in science Ron likes to keep fit through cycling and the outdoor sport of orienteering. Mountains and their formation continue to evoke a passionate interest and there are many tales from Ron’s field trips being shared among colleagues. For example, it is said that he danced a ‘mean polka’ with Austrian lasses in the Alps and is apparently a dab-hand at cooking spaghetti bolognese in the back of a Land Rover. Truly, a President of many talents.
Byan Richardson, InstMC Consultant

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