Top Royal prize for Oxford Professor Heather Viles | University of Oxford
Heather Viles
Professor Heather Viles by Mim Saxl

Top Royal prize for Oxford Professor Heather Viles

Professor Heather Viles, Oxford’s internationally-renowned geomorphologist, has been awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s highly-prestigious Royal Medal.

Approved by Her Majesty The Queen, Royal Medals recognise extraordinary achievement in geographical research, fieldwork, teaching, policy and public engagement. Professor Viles has been awarded the 2020 Founder’s Medal for her excellence in establishing an entirely new geographical field; biogeomorphology. This new discipline combines the field of ecology with geomorphology and investigates how buildings and landscapes interact with the world around them.

An international leader in investigating the wear and tear on ancient buildings, Professor Viles has researched the impact of acid rain on churches and been engaged in research around the world. But she has also has been involved beyond this world – investigating the possibility of life on the surface of Mars.

An international leader in investigating the wear and tear on ancient buildings, Professor Viles has researched the impact of acid rain on churches and been engaged in research around the world. But she has also has been involved beyond this world – investigating the possibility of life on the surface of Mars

On receiving the award, the Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation and Director of Oxford’s Resilient Buildings and Landscapes laboratory said, ‘I was extremely surprised and delighted to receive this award, and very grateful to all the colleagues and students who work with me. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without you.’

Head of the Social Sciences Division, Professor Dame Sarah Whatmore, said, 'It is a real pleasure to be able to extend warm congratulations to Professor Viles on the award of this prestigious medal, the highest accolade bestowed by the Royal Geographical Society. It is well deserved recognition of Heather’s outstanding contributions to the field of biogeomorphology and testament to the research leadership we look forward to her bringing to the role of Associate Head of Division (Research).'

Baroness Lynda Chalker, President of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), said, ‘Professor Viles has been instrumental in establishing the field of biogeomorphology and the development of nature-based solutions for heritage conservation. Her quality research has made significant contributions on topics from extreme landscape evolution to building stone conservation, yet her commitment to the advancement of geographical science is also demonstrated by her leadership. Her championing and support of the discipline among students, academic peers, and the wider public are why Heather is a worthy recipient of the Society’s highest recognition.’

Presented since the 1830s, Royal Medals are among the highest honours of their kind in the world and previous recipients include: Sir David Attenborough, Professor Diana Liverman and Lindsey Hilsum.

See the School of Geography and the Environment's announcement here.

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