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Honorary Degree Orations


Sir Keith O'Nions

Public Orator, Professor Michael Henshaw presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 18 December 2006 at 10.30am


Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Honorary Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen and Granduands …… innovation has always been important to business, but never more so than in today’s world which is changing rapidly through globalisation and more rapid development of new technologies. Professor Sir Keith O’nions, who is Director General Science and Innovation at the DTI, which includes the role of Director General of the Research Councils, not only recognises the vital importance of fundamental and applied research to the UK economy, but is strenuously working to ensure that we fully capitalise on the excellent academic research base we have in the UK.

Sir Keith graduated in geology, down the road, at Nottingham University, and later gained a PhD at the University of Alberta. He became lecturer in geochemistry at Oxford, and then moved to Columbia University in 1975 as professor of Geology. Subsequently he was appointed Royal Society Research Professor in Cambridge in 1979 and head of Earth Sciences at Oxford in 1995.

With such a distinguished academic record in the physics and chemistry of minerals, it was, perhaps, a slightly surprising career move to become Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence in 2000. It was, though, a move that was appreciated by many in science and engineering who benefited from his championing of research, and his commitment to ensuring that research was turned into tangible benefit.

Sir Keith’s characteristic dislike of red tape and bureaucracy, and his determination to just get on with it will also surely have been appreciated by many in academia and industry who have to deal with government.

In 2004, Sir Keith became Director General of the Research Councils and with customary determination set up the Economic Impact Group to examine and enhance the UKs ability to turn good research into economic benefit. Here at Loughborough, we are proud of our strong links with industry and our commitment to high quality research that enhances the UK technology base. Our efforts towards this goal chime well with Sir Keith’s initiatives to strengthen the links between investment of public funds in research and the realisation of competitive products and services, which are now shaping the strategies of the research councils.

Sir Keith has enjoyed extensive participation in a broad range of academic and technological committees and was trustee and chairman of the Natural History Museum for nine years until 2005. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1983 and an honorary fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2005. In 1999 he received a knighthood in the Queen’s birthday honours list for services to Earth Sciences.

Sir Keith has a reputation for changing things, and for moving things on quickly; but it is well known that this apparent impatience has been rewarded with good results. His commitment to UK research, and especially to the encouragement of young researchers, is exemplary. His impact upon UK research has, and continues to be outstanding, therefore, Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, and the whole University, Professor Sir Keith O’nions for the degree of DOCTOR or SCIENCE honoris causa.


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