Sheffield volcanologist wins Rolex Award for Enterprise

A volcanologist from the University of Sheffield has received a prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise, after impressing judges with his innovative device, which will help in the prediction of volcanic eruptions and could save thousands of lives. Dr Andrew McGonigle, from the University's Department of Geography, received his award at a ceremony in Dubai today (18 November 2008).

With his Rolex Award, Dr McGonigle will be able to develop his device for safely and reliably predicting volcanic eruptions weeks, even months in advance, thereby saving the lives of people who live near volcanoes.

The funds from the Award will finance AEROVOLC II, an unmanned, small-scale helicopter, designed specifically to measure the volcanic gases CO2 and SO2 in Etna and Stromboli in Italy. The aircraft operates at a drastically reduced cost compared with previous efforts to predict eruptions, whilst eliminating the often deadly task of physically measuring volcanic gases.

The Rolex Awards fund new and ongoing projects that demonstrate a spirit of enterprise and address pressing needs around the world, from climate change, to wildlife and habitat preservation, to cultural preservation, to providing water, food, medical supplies and education for impoverished communities.

Rolex presented $100,000 (£67,000) each to five Laureates, including Dr McGonigle at the first ever Rolex Awards ceremony held in the Middle East. All winners will also receive a Rolex chronometer and international publicity for their projects.

Dr McGonigle is a Senior Research Fellow in the University of Sheffield's Department of Geography and Associate Scientist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, in Palermo, Italy

He said: "Being granted this award is a profound and unexpected honour which has given me the deepest joy and satisfaction. I am very much looking forward to using these funds to purchase the latest in autonomous flight helicopter technology and to deploy this on volcanoes in attempts to improve our eruption forecasting capabilities."

Professor Grant Bigg, Head of the Department of Geography at the University of Sheffield, added: "We are extremely proud of Andrew and what he has achieved. His innovative device could potentially save millions of lives, as well as reduce risk for volcanologists. We are delighted that he has been given the opportunity to develop the device and wish him well with the project. He is an asset to the Department and the University."

Patrick Heiniger, Chief Executive Officer of Rolex, said: "The Rolex Awards for Enterprise enable the work of global pioneers who are breaking new ground in their fields and improving lives worldwide. We are proud to support these truly original thinkers and salute them for their ingenuity and commitment of purpose."

Notes for Editors: Rolex Philanthropy
Since its founding a century ago, Rolex has supported individual excellence and achievement around the globe. Through its two primary philanthropic programmes, the Awards for Enterprise and the Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Rolex fosters innovation in science, exploration, conservation, and the arts worldwide.