Keith O'Nions

Sir Robert Keith O'Nions FRS Hon.FREng[1] (born 26 September 1944),[2] is a British scientist and ex-President & Rector of the Imperial College London. He is the former Director General of the Research Councils as well as Professor of the Physics and Chemistry of Minerals and was head of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford.[3]

Sir Robert Keith O'Nions
Born (1944-09-26) 26 September 1944
Alma materUniversity of Nottingham
University of Alberta
AwardsBigsby Medal (1983)
Holmes Medal (1995)
Lyell Medal (1995)
Knight Bachelor (1999)
Urey Medal (2001)
HonFREng[1] (2005)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Alberta
University of Oslo
University of Oxford
Imperial College London
Columbia University
University of Cambridge
ThesisGeochronology of the Bamble sector of the Baltic Shield, South Norway (1969)
Doctoral advisorRoger D. Morton

Early life

He attended Yardley Grammar School in Birmingham. He studied geology as an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham, receiving a PhD at the University of Alberta before taking up a postdoctoral position at the University of Oslo.


He taught geochemistry at the University of Oxford from 1971 to 1975, when he became a professor of geology at Columbia University, a post he held until 1979 when he became a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Cambridge. He remained there until 1995, when he returned to Oxford to take up the professorship.

He was knighted in 1999, and from 2000 to 2004 he was Chief Scientific Adviser to the Ministry of Defence. After a period as Director General of the Research Councils, he was appointed to lead the newly formed Institute for Security Science and Technology at Imperial College, London in July 2008.[4] On 1 January 2010, following the resignation of Sir Roy Anderson, he became the acting Rector of Imperial College London,[3] in July 2010 he was appointed to a full term as Rector, to run until 2013.[5]

O'Nions received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 2004 [6]

He was also appointed as a HonFREng[1] of the Royal Academy of Engineering[1] in 2005.

He is a member of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.[7]

In September 2017 he was appointed by Natural Environment Research Council as Chair of the new British Geological Survey board.[8]

Personal life

In 1967 he married Rita Bill with whom he has had three daughters.[2]


Academic offices
Preceded by
Roy Anderson
Rector of Imperial College London
2010 – present
Succeeded by
Alice Gast

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