May 18 2021

David Whitworth, Department of Earth Sciences alumnus, recently won the third prize in the Halliburton Landmark Earth Model Award 2020 for his thesis as a postgraduate taught student. We recently caught up with David to ask more about his thesis and award.

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you studied at Royal Holloway? 

I started at Royal Holloway in 2016, studying Geology, and singing as a choral scholar in the Chapel Choir. I was always keen to fill my time with constructive endeavours: in my third year, I was President of Lyell Geoscience Society, and a regular Deputy Lay Clerk with the choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. When I graduated in 2019 I was also awarded the Earth Science Department’s Frank Barker Prize, and the Students’ Union Honorary Membership Award for my work as a Student Ambassador and Peer Guide. 

I stayed on at Royal Holloway to complete an MSc in Petroleum Geoscience, which I completed remotely in September 2020, during the pandemic. 

2. You have recently won the third prize in the Halliburton Landmark Earth Model Award 2020, congratulations! Can you tell us about the Award? 

Thank you! I was nominated for the Earth Model Award by staff in the Royal Holloway Earth Sciences Department, and subsequently shortlisted by Halliburton in January. I was informed I had won third prize in April, which was a huge surprise. The EMA is awarded for excellence in Master’s level research, on topics which have a marked impact on ‘big picture geoscience’. 

3. What was your thesis based on? 

My thesis was titled ‘Compressed Air Energy Storage potential of salt anticlines & diapirs in the Southern North Sea’. The study looked at dozens of structures in the UK sector of the SNS, and their capacity for storing compressed air. This is done via solution mining of elliptical salt caverns, such as those used at the Huntorf plant in Germany. Data was provided by the Oil & Gas Authority’s National Data Repository and included 3D seismic and well data.  

Preliminary results of the study showed significant potential for CAES to provide security to the UK’s energy mix throughout the energy transition, to the tune of 267 Gigawatt hours (GWh), or ten hours of the entire UK energy demand. 

4. What inspired you to focus your research on that particular topic? 

I was keen to focus my MSc thesis on a topic related to Negative Emissions Technologies, as I am keen to prepare myself for a career in geoscience during the energy transition. Companies and governments are looking to move away from oil & gas exploration, towards things such as Compressed Air, and Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS). The latter topic forms the basis of my current research, as a PhD student at Keele University, as part of the Basin Dynamics Research Group. My PhD project is funded by the new GeoNetZero Centre for Doctoral Training, which was recently publicly recognised by the UK Government for training future leaders in the energy industry. 

5. You also won the first prize as ‘UK Master student of the Year’, what was your favourite thing about being a postgraduate student at Royal Holloway, and specifically in the Department of Earth Sciences? 

I was also awarded 'FindAUniversity’s' Master’s Student of the Year award in 2020, after being nominated by my lecturers and peers. The award recognises students who combine their studies with other commitments on campus, with a particular focus on helping other students, and improving the quality of the student experience, which is something I have always tried to achieve. 

My favourite part of being a student at Royal Holloway over the past four years has been the community spirit that comes with a small university and department. I enjoyed always being around the corner from my friends, and knowing all of my lecturers were happy to help me at a moment’s notice. I was disappointed to have to leave Holloway during the pandemic, but I hope to visit as soon as restrictions allow. 

6. How did your undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Royal Holloway prepare you for further study? 

My degrees at Royal Holloway have equipped me with a core knowledge of geoscience which is applicable in both industry and academia. My MSc in particular provided a balance between soft skills such as teamwork and problem solving, and more nuanced skills such as data analysis and integration, and use of industry software. The research project and resulting thesis prepared me for further study as a PhD student at Keele, instilling key ideas such as independent & collaborative working, particularly during the throes of the pandemic when I was working from my bedroom at home! 

7. How do you like to spend your time outside of studying? 

I’m still adjusting to the lifestyle of doing a PhD from home; there are a lot of distractions! When I’m not working, I can usually be found singing in cathedrals, cycling, or hiking in the countryside looking for nice rocks. I’m also a keen gamer and chef!