Christopher Hall FRSE FREng FIMMM (profile)

15 Oct 2013

Christopher Hall has been a Fellow of IOM3 and its predecessors since 1990. He was born on the last day of 1944 and educated at The King's School, Chester, The Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College, Oxford, where he read chemistry. He then undertook research on nuclear magnetic resonance with Sir Rex Richards at the Physical Chemistry Laboratory, Oxford, obtaining a DPhil in 1970.

After working on molten salt ultrasonics with Ernest Yeager at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, and on hydrate spectroscopy with Norman Sheppard at East Anglia, Christopher joined the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in 1972 as a lecturer in building engineering, in a remarkable department led by Denis Harper, who assembled a group of specialist academics to work on the problems of construction. It was here that Christopher started to work on water transport mechanisms in porous materials. This proved to be a rich field in which his contributions over many years are still recognised throughout the world. He realised that much of the fundamental content of soil physics could be applied to water transport in built structures. This provides what is now the standard model, as set out in Water Transport in Brick, Stone and Concrete (with W D Hoff in 2002, second edition 2011). He also developed an innovative course on fire theory and wrote an influential textbook, Polymer Materials, in 1981. 

In 1983, Christopher joined Schlumberger as Head of Rock and Fluid Physics in its new research centre in Cambridge. He gathered together a diverse and talented group of scientists and engineers to work on heavy oilfield engineering, especially drilling and well construction. Much of the research lay in the chemomechanics of rocks and the colloid science of complex fluids. Geoffrey Maitland was recruited by Christopher to lead this reseacrh. Christopher was also an enthusiast for new measurements in chemical sensing for monitoring field operations.

In 1989, Christopher moved to the Dowell Schlumberger R&D Centre in France as Head of Chemical Technology, responsible for new product development in well cementing and reservoir stimulation, and also for worldwide technical support of these field operations. After two years, he moved back to Cambridge as Scientific Advisor, a new top technical ladder position. He developed this role by identifying university research of value to Schlumberger and working closely with academics and students as a hands-on scientist. He was particularly interested in the fundamental hydration chemistry of cement materials, not least under the severe conditions of deep boreholes. He collaborated with Paul Barnes' group at Birkbeck in devising synchrotron methods for observing rapid hydration reactions under hydrothermal conditions, and was heavily involved in the NSF-funded centre for advanced cement-based materials at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois. He was a pioneer of atomic force microscopy for the study of mineral surface reactions, working notably on gypsum and barytes crystal growth and dissolution. He also established a powerful molecular modelling group at Schlumberger, led by Peter Coveney, the first in oilfield engineering.

In 2000, he was appointed to the University of Edinburgh as its first Professor of Materials. He played a leading role in establishing the integrated School of Engineering in 2004, and as the Director of Research worked closely with Peter Grant as Head of the School of Engineering until 2009. In extending the reach of materials research across the university, he played an important part in setting up the Edinburgh Materials and Micro Analysis Centre, the Institute for Materials and Processes, and the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions. In particular, the Leverhulme Trust major grant for the Centre for Science at Extreme Conditions was won against fierce competition from all the established UK materials departments and marked an important recognition of Edinburgh materials. In his own research, Christopher pursued his interests in the hydrothermal behaviour of cements, and in water transport in construction materials, increasingly in relation to long-term processes of damage, for example in heritage building.  

He was awarded the first Senior Brian Mercer award by the Royal Society in 2001 for his work on water transport, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2010 and in 2013 has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering.