Professor Lionel Wilson

Emeritus Professor

Research Overview

By background Lionel is a physicist; his doctoral thesis was concerned with the load-bearing properties of the surface of the Moon just prior to the Apollo landings. When ancient lava flows were detected on the Moon in images taken by the astronauts he was amazed to find that there was essentially no literature on the physics of volcanic eruptions that he could use to analyze these flows; as a result he has spent the last 50 years developing mathematical physical models of all types of volcanic eruption.

Spacecraft data have shown that all of the silicate planets - Venus, Mars, Mercury, our Moon, Jupiter's satellite Io, and even some asteroids - have been volcanically active at some point in their lives. Comparing eruption deposits on these bodies, which differ as a result of differences in the acceleration due to gravity and the presence or absence of an atmosphere, has been a major spur to Lionel's research. He has been involved in the analysis of data from virtually all of the spacecraft that have visited the inner planets and asteroids, as a Principal Investigator in the NASA Planetology Program, and as a Visiting Professor at two U.S. institutions, Brown University and the University of Hawai'i. His contributions to planetary volcanology have been recognized by the American Geophysical Union, with the N.I. Bowen Award in 1983, and by the Geological Society of America, with the G.K. Gilbert Award in 2005.

Lionel's work has involved many international collaborations, and has been supported financially at various times by:

  • the Royal Society, the Science and Engineering Research Council, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, and the Leverhulme Trust in the UK;
  • the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the USA;
  • the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; and the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences.

To date he has published 184 peer-reviewed papers, 23 book chapters, and 250 referable conference abstracts, and he has co-authored two books. His enthusiasm for maintaining the literary, as well as the academic, standards of published scientific work led to him acting as editor in chief of the international Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research for the 25 years ending in 2015.

Finally, mindful of the need to ensure the continuity of scientific research, Lionel has supervised or co-supervised the research projects of 37 Ph.D. students at Lancaster. He has also acted as ad hoc advisor to many graduate students at the two U.S. universities that he visits regularly, and has been the external examiner of the Ph.D. theses of more than 30 students from other universities in the UK and abroad.

You can see a much younger (1985) version of Lionel appearing with Patrick Moore in "The Sky at Night"about 10 minutes into the programme at:

The nature of the very largest lava flows that occur on the Earth and other planets is still a major ongoing research issue, and Lionel discussed this for the local outreach TV channel during a recent visit to the University of Hawai'i - see:

Lecture to Furness & South Lakeland Astronomical Society: "Understanding the volcanic history of the Moon and Mars".
Types of Public engagement and outreach - Festival/Exhibition

Lecture to Eddington Astronomical Society of Kendal
Types of Public engagement and outreach - Festival/Exhibition

  • Earth Science
  • Understanding a changing planet