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Staff Profile: Prof H R Thomas


Prof Hywel R Thomas



Professor of Civil Engineering.
Director, Geoenvironmental Research Centre.
UNESCO Professor in the Development of a Sustainable Geoenvironment.


Research Theme:

Energy and Environment


Research Group:

Geoenvironmental Research Centre






+44 (0)29 2087 4965 (direct line)





Hywel Rhys Thomas graduated from University College Swansea with a first class honours degree in Civil Engineering and after completing an MSc in Soil Mechanics at Imperial College, spent 4½ years with consulting engineers Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners, leading to Chartered Engineer status (MICE). He then returned to Swansea to read for a PhD, before taking up a post as an academic member of staff at Cardiff. He was awarded a Personal Chair by the University of Wales.

Prof Thomas’ early research interests centred on the development of an improved understanding of the engineering behaviour of unsaturated soil. Attention was focused on constitutive models that described the complex thermo/hydro/mechanical response of such materials. In recognition of the advances made in this area, he was awarded a higher Doctorate of the University of Wales, a DSc.

In response to a need to provide research support in an emerging area of importance, he subsequently expanded his research interests and established the Geoenvironmental Research Centre (GRC). The discipline combines traditional geotechnical engineering with environmental engineering considerations, to address a range of problems such as contaminated land, waste disposal, ground water pollution etc.

Professor Thomas’ research interests now cover a wide range of geoenvironmental issues, from coupled multiphysics/geochemistry flow problems in soils and rocks, to waste disposal and land regeneration through to sustainability issues in general. A major focus of his work is the geological disposal of high level nuclear waste.

Current interests also include the geoenergy field, with major projects on ground source heat, underground coal gasification, exploitation of unconventional gas and carbon sequestration in coal seams.

During the course of his academic career, he has:

• Produced some 427 publications.
• Supervised over 80 research assistants and students.
• Attracted research funding of approximately £30M.
• Organised and lectured on numerous short courses and conferences.
• Served on over 30 international conference organising committees.
• Presented almost 90 invited lectures in 21 countries, including 24 keynote/feature/theme/named lectures.

He currently works extensively with the UN agencies, UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNESCO and the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). In relation to UNIDO, he works on programmes of research related to the clean up of POPS (Persistent Organic Pollutants), focussing in particular on West Africa. In relation to UNESCO, he is a UNESCO Professor in the Development of a Sustainable Geoenvironment, pursuing a programme of interdisciplinary research, combining geoenvironmental engineering with health and social science. The geographical focus of the work is India. In relation to the IAEA he is a member of the Agency’s worldwide network on the “Geological Disposal of High Level Nuclear Waste” and currently acts as Chair of the network. In all these programmes capacity building is of paramount importance.

Professor Thomas is also actively involved in considerable “Knowledge Transfer” work, particularly locally in Wales. He has worked on numerous programmes where a key deliverable is the support of local SMEs. Creation of new companies has also been a significant target.

Professor Thomas’ academic achievements have been recognised by election as a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng), a Member of Academia Europaea , the Academy of Europe (MAE) and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales (FLSW).

Professor Thomas is also Pro Vice-Chancellor, International and Engagement at Cardiff University. In this role he is responsible for the University’s international activities, partnerships and reputation, together with the University’s engagement within Wales.

Prior to this appointment he was the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for “Innovation and Engagement” and Internationalisation( 2010 to 2012.) In this role he established the University’s strategy in the above areas. He was also the “Link PVC” to the Physical Sciences and Engineering Schools within the University, charged with advising the Vice-Chancellor on their strategic development.

Prior to that role Professor Thomas was the Director of the School of Engineering, one of the University’s largest Schools, (2002 to 2010) and Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Innovation and Engagement (2007 to 2010).


Professional Activities and Recognition:

• Appointed: Fellow of the Royal Society, 2012

• Elected: Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, 2003

• Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales

• Delivered: 15 keynote and invited lectures at international conferences (e.g. 11th Int. Assoc. of Computer Methods and Advances in Geomechanics, Italy, 2005)

• Editorial Board Member: Geotechnique,2001, Int. J. of Geomechanics, International J. for Numerical and Analytical Methods in Geomechanics

• Member: EPSRC Technical Opportunities Panel (TOP), 2006-date

• Member: RAEng Standing Committee for Research and Secondment and Lead Assessor for Civil Engineering, 2005-date, and Standing Committee for International Activities 2007-date

• Reviewer: Research Quality Framework (RAE-equivalent) at Monash University, 2006

• Member and Chair Elect: UN International Atomic Energy Agency Technical Committee “Building Confidence in Geological Disposal of High Level Nuclear Waste”, 2001-date

• Guest Editor: Geotechnique Symposium in Print, 2003, Special Issue of Engineering Geology on Geoenvironmental Engineering, 2001 and 2003

• Consultant: International Atomic Energy Agency.