Front page

About me


... it is clear that the degradation of the position of the scientist as an independent worker and thinker to that of a morally irresponsible stooge in a science-factory has proceeded even more rapidly and devastatingly than I had expected. The subordination of those who ought to think to those who have the administrative power is ruinous for the morale of the scientist, and quite to the same extent it is ruinous to the quality of the objective scientific output of the country.
— Norbert Wiener, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (November 1948).

Mustering the pickets, November 2019

This page gives a rough idea of what I get up to at work when I'm not teaching. It's a combination of research, refereeing and examining, and other stuff such as trying to make the world a very slightly saner and more numerate place. (This doesn't, in general, work.)


Die Mathematiker sind eine Art Franzosen: redet man zu ihnen, so übersetzen sie es in ihre Sprache, und dann ist es alsobald ganz etwas Anderes. [Mathematicians are a kind of Frenchman: you tell them something; they translate it into their own language; and hey presto! it means something completely different.]
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen (1829).

Part of the Brushy Canyon turbidite system where Highway 62/180 cuts through it. The lighter sandstone represents places where a really massive sand-laden current has overflowed its channel, while the darker mudstone is probably general pelagic background gunk. Photo taken in March 2004.

I'm interested in various aspects of environmental and geophysical fluid dynamics. In particular, I'm interested in "mucky" flows, in which fluids carry solid particles or interact with a permeable solid matrix: examples of the first include the flow of muds and industrial slurries, while examples of the second include the injection of fluids into oil reservoirs and the circulation of saline water in aquifers or geothermal reservoirs. Some idea of what I get up to can be found in my publications. The picture above is to remind me just how complicated and interesting geological problems get.

Within the Department, I'm part of the Continuum Mechanics and Industrial Mathematics group. My original plan was to develop my own sub-group around the theme of earth sciences, but this failed when I couldn't think of a sufficiently silly acronym for it. Within the University, I'm also associated with the nascent Oil and Gas Institute.

Current and previous research supervision

Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first one is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.
— Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness (1935).

The following people have survived my supervision.

Grants awarded

The greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense... and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself.
— Peter Medawar, review of T. de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, reprinted in The Art of the Soluble (Penguin, 1969).

This work was not funded by any agency, and thus has a benefit-cost ratio of infinity.
— G. Parker, "Conditions for the ignition of catastrophically erosive turbidity currents", Mar. Geol. 46, 307–327 (1982); Acknowledgements.

It's a mucky and dispiriting business, but every so often we have to persuade other people to pay us to do research. Grants on which I've so far been Principal Investigator or co-investigator:

2017: Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Title of project: Mathematical modelling and analysis of self-rewetting fluids in heat pipes, with co-investigators Prof. Khellil Sefiane (University of Edinburgh), Dr Alex Wray, and Prof. Stephen Wilson (PI). Value: £7500.

2016-17: EPSRC Institutional Sponsorship Award from the Global Challenges Research Fund, with partner Dr Winnie Mutuku (Kenyatta University) and co-investigators Prof. Nigel J. Mottram and Prof. Stephen K. Wilson. Title of project: Water resource modelling in arid and semi-arid environments. Value: approximately £12 500.

2015-16: Research Incentive Grant from the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland. Title of project: Setting fire to soil: modelling smouldering remediation to evaluate its effects on soil properties. Value: £7090.

2015: Bridging the Gaps Short Project Award from the University of Strathclyde, with co-investigators Dr Christine Switzer (Civil and Environmental Engineering; PI) and Dr Lindsey Corson (Civil and Environmental Engineering). Title of project: Mechanistic modelling of smouldering remediation to evaluate its effects on soil properties and interactions with groundwater. Value: £9500.

2014–2016: Doctoral Training Grant from EPSRC via the University of Strathclyde; joint PI with Professor Stephen K. Wilson. Title of project: Thin-film flows of complex fluids. Value: approximately £50 000.

2014: James Clerk Maxwell AIMS Fund award to support project supervision at AIMS-Ghana. Value: £2000.

2014: Bridging the Gaps Award from the University of Strathclyde; co-investigator. Title of project: New connections in particles and fluids—from fracking and foods, to bacteria and blood. Value: £2110.

2009–2013: Doctoral Training Grant from EPSRC via the University of Strathclyde; joint PI with Professor Stephen K. Wilson. Title of project: Mathematical modelling of complex fluids in slender geometries. Value: approximately £50 000.

2009: Summer Internship under the Interns@Strathclyde [sic] scheme. Title of project: Mathematical models of turbidity currents into the deep ocean. Value: £1400.

2007–2008: Bridging the Gaps Short Project Award from EPSRC via the University of Strathclyde, with co-investigators Dr James Lim (Civil Engineering; PI), Dr Tugrul Comlekci (Mechanical Engineering) and Dr Robert Hamilton (Mechanical Engineering). Title of project: Cold-formed steel frames in fire. Value: approximately £6000.

2007: Faculty of Science Starter Grant from the University of Strathclyde. Title of project: Applications of mathematical modelling to the earth sciences. Value: £8000.

2005–2007: Royal Society International Joint Project Award (ref. RG43115), with Professor George Tsypkin (Russian Academy of Sciences). Title: Modelling soil salinisation by groundwater evaporation. Value: £9500.

2004–2006: NERC/EPSRC EMS Postdoctoral Fellowship (ref. NE/B50188X/1) held in the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge. Title of project: Modelling the dynamics and morphology of flow-reaction processes in porous rocks. Value: approximately £117 000.

Editing, refereeing and examining

And who can doubt that it will lead to the worst disorders when minds created free by God are compelled to submit slavishly to an outside will? When we are told to deny our senses and subject them to the whim of others? When people devoid of whatsoever competence are made judges over experts and are granted authority to treat them as they please? These are the novelties which are apt to bring about the ruin of commonwealths and the subversion of the state.
— Galileo Galilei [on the margin of his own copy of Dialogue on the Great World Systems]. Quoted in J R Newman, The World of Mathematics (1956), p. 733.

From August 2013 until May 2022 I was on the editorial board of Journal of Engineering Mathematics. If you have a good piece of work applying mathematics to a genuine physical problem you might still want to consider submitting it to them for publication.

I try to do my fair share of refereeing work (whatever the Publons protection racket may claim). So far I've reviewed manuscripts or proposals for Advances in Water Resources, Applied Mathematical Modelling. Archive of Applied Mechanics, Bulletin of Volcanology, Catena, Chemical Engineering Science, Coastal Engineering, Comptes Rendus Geoscience, Continental Shelf Research, Ecological Modelling, the Elsevier engineering textbooks series, Environmental Fluid Mechanics, European Journal of Applied Mathematics, European Journal of Mechanics B: Fluids, European Journal of Physics, Geophysical Research Letters, Hydrological Processes, IMA Journal of Applied Mathematics, Indian Journal of Marine Sciences, International Journal of Ecology and Development, International Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer, International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, International Journal of Sediment Research, Journal of Aerospace Engineering, Journal of Coastal Research, Journal of Coatings Technology and Research, Journal of Engineering Mathematics, Journal of Fluid Mechanics, Journal of Fluids Engineering, Journal of Geophysical Research: Earth Surface, Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, Journal of Hydrology, Journal of Non-Newtonian Fluid Mechanics, Journal of Structural Geology, Mathematical Methods in the Applied Sciences, Meccanica, Mechanics Research Communications, Nonlinear Processes in Geophysics, Oceanologia, Physical Review Fluids, Physics of Fluids, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Quarterly Journal of Mechanics and Applied Mathematics, Sedimentology, SIAM Journal of Applied Mathematics, Theoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics, Transport in Porous Media, Water Resources Research and Zeitschrift für angewandte Mathematik und Physik — which should give you some idea how poorly-focussed my research interests actually are. I'm also on the review panel for AMS's Mathematical Reviews: yes, an actual maths resource at last.

In addition to this, I've acted as external or internal examiner, so far, for fourteen MPhil theses and twelve PhD theses, variously at Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham, and Strathclyde. The main credit for this, naturally, rests with the poor individuals who had to deal with my idiosyncratic approach to dissertation-writing. Well done, guys.

Other professional activities

Higher Applications of Mathematics

I was the chair of the Qualification Design Team for the SQA Higher Applications of Mathematics, helping to write the course specifications, steer it through validation, and develop specimen assessment material.

On the back of that, I run an SFC-supported "upskilling" module in Mathematical Modelling for Mathematics Teachers, to help teachers prepare to teach the new Higher, and I'm also one of the authors of the online resources produced by the SCHOLAR project.

In case you've not realised, I'm quite keen on Higher Apps. If it works, it could really change how a lot of pupils get to see and use mathematical ideas. If it doesn't... blame me, I guess.

Mathematical Societies and Councils

I'm a member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, and from 2014-2019 I represented the EMS on the Joint Mathematical Council of the UK; I was also a Trustee of the JMC from 2017-2019. From 2011 to 2015 I was the Convenor of the EMS Education Committee. One of the main jobs of the Education Committee is to disburse funds to extra-curricular projects in school mathematics, so if you have ideas along these lines then let them know!

From 2015-2021 I was also a member of the Scottish Mathematical Council, for whose website and Twitter feed I was notionally responsible.

On behalf of both EMS and SMC, I was involved from 2015-2021 with the Royal Society of Edinburgh's Learned Societies' Group on Scottish STEM Education.

Mathematical outreach and problem-solving

I'm keen on projects that give students a taste of mathematics as problem-solving, rather than mathematics as a kind of voodoo ritual intended to evoke marks from examiners. Here's a plug for some organisations I've been involved with which seem to share this enthusiasm.

  • The UK Mathematics Trust. I've been involved in three of their excellent Mathematical Circles events for school pupils, held in Aberdeen (May 2017) and at Strathclyde (September 2017 and September 2018).
  • The Scottish Mathematical Challenge, which is organised under the aegis of the Scottish Mathematical Council. From 2012 to 2016 I was the organiser for the Secondary division of the West of Scotland region.
  • The Techfest-SetPoint "Maths in the Pipeline" scheme which introduces mathematical problem-solving through the oil industry. I pretended to be an oil industry expert at the events held in Hamilton in June 2009 and June 2010. Again, thanks to those who participated and didn't blow my cover...
  • The European Consortium for Mathematics in Industry, which does more or less what it says on the tin. I was involved in their Student Modelling Week in Lyngby, Denmark, in August 2006, where I inflicted various ideas connected with mine tailings and non-Newtonian fluids on a group of remarkably tolerant and keen students from across Europe. My thanks and apologies are due to all involved.