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Simon Redfern
Dean, College of Science
The Asian School of the Environment
College of Science

Professor Redfern is a mineralogist, trained as a crystallographer, who is interested in the links between atomic scale structure and the physical and chemical properties of planetary materials, from Earth’s oceans to its core. His scientific research career, focussed on mineral sciences and more broadly within geosciences, spans more than 35 years. He completed his PhD in 1989 at the University of Cambridge. In 1989 he was appointed Lecturer in Geochemical Spectroscopy joint between Geology and Chemistry at the University of Manchester. In 1994 he returned to Cambridge as a Lecturer in the Department of Earth Sciences, and was then promoted to Reader and then Professor. In 2016 he became Head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Cambridge. In 2019 he moved to NTU and take up the post of President’s Chair in Earth Sciences, alongside the role of Dean of the College of Science. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, University of Cambridge.

Research Statement

Professor Redfern’s work explores how minerals control and reflect Earth and environmental processes and he has worked in collaboration with a wide variety of Earth and environmental scientists, from climate scientists to volcanologists to palaeontologist to seismologists and even exoplanetary “geo”scientists. In all cases he is interested in how insights into nanometre scale features of environmental materials provide understanding of global processes. His work has extended to using insights from nature to develop new materials in the context of materials design and engineering.

Research One-liner

Understanding how our planet works from the atoms up, to avoid environmental opportunities and risks, and build a secure and safe future.

Publications

1) Pu Zhao, Hong Fang, Sanghamitra Mukhopadhyay, Aurelia Li, Svemir Rudić, Ian J McPherson, Chiu C Tang, David Fairen-Jimenez, SC Edman Tsang, Simon AT Redfern (2019) Structural dynamics of a metal–organic framework induced by CO2 migration in its non-uniform porous structure. Nature Communications, 10, 1, 1-8

We explain how CO2 interacts with a novel molecular sponge material to move into the solid and be captured, stored, or released from that “sponge”, providing a better way to capture and store CO2 from chemical processes or from the atmosphere.

2) Xiaolei Feng, Simon AT Redfern (2018) Iodate in calcite, aragonite and vaterite CaCO3: Insights from first-principles calculations and implications for the I/Ca geochemical proxy. Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta 236, 351-360

Using quantum mechanical structure calculations we show why iodine, incorporated into the shells of marine organisms, provides a way of measuring the amount of oxygen in seawater, important in assessing whether oceans will remain habitable for fisheries under changing climate.

3) Oscar Branson, Simon AT Redfern, Tolek Tyliszczak, Aleksey Sadekov, Gerald Langer, Katsunori Kimoto, Henry Elderfield (2013) The coordination of Mg in foraminiferal calcite. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 383, 134-141

Tiny amounts of magnesium get incorporated into the shells of plankton and other organisms in the ocean, and the proportion of this element in the shell is used as an indicator of past ocean temperatures, going back more than 100 million years – we measure the magnesium and explain why and how this “proxy” for temperature works.

Latest Projects

AI4ER: I was the first PI and Director of the UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in the Application of Artificial Intelligence to the study of Environmental Risks (AI4ER), which launched in Cambridge University in 2019. It will, through several multi disciplinary cohorts, train researchers uniquely equipped to develop and apply leading edge computational approaches to address critical global environmental challenges by exploiting vast, diverse and often currently untapped environmental data sets. Embedded in the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the AI4ER CDT will address problems that are relevant to building resilience to environmental hazards and managing environmental change.

Releasing divalent cations to sequester carbon on land and sea: The natural response of the carbon cycle to the warming induced by increased atmospheric CO2 features two negative feedbacks that remove CO2 from the atmosphere. One, caused by the greater acidity of the oceans, is for carbonate minerals to be dissolved, which causes an increase in the ability of seawater to contain carbon (as the bicarbonate ion). The other is for warmer conditions to increase the rate at which silicate minerals dissolve, with the products either precipitated as carbonate minerals, or flowing to the oceans. This silicate weathering also removes CO2 from the atmosphere. This project explores the potential of silicate weather for the development of “negative carbon emissions” – drawing CO2 out of the atmosphere by natural processes.

The Nature of the Deep Nitrogen Cycle: Nitrogen forms an integral part of the main building blocks of life, including DNA, RNA, and proteins. As such, nitrogen geochemistry is fundamental to the evolution of planet Earth and the life it supports. However, even after decades of research, large gaps remain in our knowledge of how the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle has evolved through time. This study will enable us to model the flux of nitrogen returned to the deep Earth by plate tectonics, and predict the behaviour of ammonium in the deeper, inaccessible parts of the Earth.

Advice to young researchers

Do not be afraid to ask questions and bother people who have been working in the field longer than you. Step back and consider those questions that you want to answer – and be ambitious in seeking the solutions. Take advice. Don’t let failure knock you back, find an alternative pathway through.

Other affiliation(s)

Expert Areas

Research Interests

Research Category
Engineering & Technology, Natural Sciences
Research Sub-category
Earth Sciences & Engineering, Energy, Materials Science & Engineering
NISTH Assigned Topic Groupings
Circular economy & waste reduction
Affiliated Sustainable Development Goals
GOAL 11: SUSTAINABLE CITIES AND COMMUNITIES – There needs to be a future in which cities provide opportunities for all, with access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation and more.
GOAL 13: CLIMATE ACTION – Climate change is a global challenge that affects everyone, everywhere.
GOAL 14: LIFE BELOW WATER – Careful management of this essential global resource is a key feature of a sustainable future.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.
Last Updated
08 Apr 2020
Last Updated
13 Sep 2020