Dr Nicolas Flament, School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences

Dr Nicolas Flament awarded prestigious David Syme Research Prize

Dr Nicolas Flament awarded prestigious David Syme Research Prize

Researcher has transformed our understanding of the deep Earth and its role in shaping the planet’s surface

University of Wollongong (UOW) earth scientist Dr Nicolas Flament has been awarded the prestigious David Syme Research Prize in recognition of his ground-breaking work on dynamic Earth models.

The David Syme Research Prize is one of the oldest science awards in Australia, and is awarded annually for the best original work in biology, physics, chemistry or geology.

Dr Flament, a senior lecturer in the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences, develops dynamic Earth models that explain and enhance geological observations.

Since 2010 Dr Flament has worked with world-leading researchers in tectonics and geodynamics to reconstruct plate motions and mantle flow over tens of million years. He was part of a small team that developed a new generation of reconstructions of past mantle flow that makes it possible to investigate mantle flow deeper in Earth’s history than other methods.

His models show that global sea level varied by about 300 metres over the past 550 million years (dawn of complex life), due to the motion of plates at Earth’s surface and to motions deep within the Earth.

The models also reveal that the very deep Earth is more mobile than previously thought, which explains large volcanic eruptions in space and time. Dr Flament’s dynamic Earth models are used as frontier exploration tools to find deposits of minerals that are essential to the transition to a low-emission economy.

“I find the links between the interior of the planet, its surface environments and the evolution of life fascinating,” Dr Flament said.

“The interior of the planet shapes landscapes, modulates the composition of the atmosphere and climate and has contributed to making the planet hospitable for life. In turn, life forms shape topography and regulate the composition of the atmosphere.

“Understanding how the deeper, solid Earth works is important for understanding how life has evolved in the past, and then forecasting what may happen in the future. To some extent, the past is the key to the future.”

UOW Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) Professor David Currow congratulated Dr Flament on his well-earned recognition.

“It is always pleasing to see UOW’s researchers being recognised for the truly world-class work that they do. Dr Flament’s dynamic Earth models have not only transformed our understanding of the deep Earth, they have also proved valuable to the resources sector in helping to pinpoint the minerals needed to help us transition to a low carbon emissions society.”

The David Syme Research Prize is named after the former owner of The Age newspaper, David Syme, who in 1904 bequeathed £3000 for the foundation of a research prize.

More than a century later, the David Syme Research Prize – administered by the University of Melbourne – is awarded annually to the producer of the best original research in Australia during the two years preceding the award.

Preference is given to work of value in the industrial and commercial interests of Australia.

In 2021, Dr Flament was awarded the Anton Hales Medal by the Australian Academy of Sciences for his contribution to Earth sciences.