Alexis Cartwright-Taylor


  • EH14 4AS

    United Kingdom

Accepting PhD Students


Research activity per year

Personal profile

Research interests

My research interests include the micro-mechanics of damage localisation and faulting, fluid-rock interactions relevant to the energy transition, the statistical physics of fracture phenomena, and the controls on and predictability of material failure. My research vision for this new role in the Lyell Centre is to facilitate the energy transition by pursuing a research agenda focussed on understanding and quantifying the micro-physical subsurface processes relevant for achieving our Net Zero commitments (geothermal, long-term storage of CO2, seasonal storage of H2), and the associated risks of damage and induced seismicity. I aim to observe directly local changes in micro-structure, strain and fluid transport at reservoir conditions, and monitor these changes indirectly with acoustic and electric methods to benchmark, and reduce uncertainties in, meso-scale laboratory experiments and macro-scale models.


I have a BSc in geophysics from the University of Southampton and an MSc in geophysical hazards from UCL. I have worked for a geophysical survey company conducting offshore marine geophysical surveys, and for the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission in science communication (Fiji) and earthquake hazard assessment (Vanuatu). I have a PhD in experimental rock deformation at UCL investigating the electrical properties of deforming rocks with application to earthquake precursors.

Prior to starting my position at Heriot-Watt, I was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh for seven years, investigating the influence of stress on rock physical properties in space and time, in particular the grain-scale processes involved in strain localisation and material failure. Research highlights include demonstrating that (i) seismic events miss important kinematically-governed grain-scale mechanisms during shear failure of porous rocks, (ii) material starting heterogeneity influences the crack network evolution and the predictability of failure, (iii) coda wave interferometry characterises changes in bulk properties of scattering media more effectively than first-arrivals, and (iv) microcrack aspect ratio in deforming rocks is porosity-dependent, validating a recent rock physics model. I was also involved in a mine-water geothermal study that demonstrated the potential for resilient and sustainable, low-cost and low-carbon heating via a circular heat network, and in a study investigating material controls on seasonal storage of hydrogen in porous reservoirs.

I live in Edinburgh with my partner and am an outdoor enthusiast and keen swing dancer. I am also a yoga instructor and remedial massage therapist with a passion for cultivating mindfulness and self-compassion and helping others to do the same.

Key Research Words/Phrases

Experimental rock deformation, equipment development, fluid-rock interactions, rock physics, earthquakes, seismology, statistical physics, in-situ synchrotron x-ray microtomography, geohazards, geophysics.

Profile Summary

My research integrates approaches from rock physics, seismology and structural geology to better understand micro-physical damage processes in rocks under stress. Specifically, I combine high-resolution, time-resolved (4D) x-ray micro-tomographic imaging of in-situ rock deformation with seismology and statistical physics approaches to better understand the processes behind catastrophic material failure. I specialise in equipment development and instrumentation, with my main achievement being the development of a unique x-ray transparent deformation cell with integrated acoustic monitoring, aiming to relate inferences made about the subsurface from acoustic monitoring with local changes in micro-structure and strain. I also use acoustic and electric monitoring of deformation and fluid flow experiments at the meso-scale to understand bulk damage and mass transport properties.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action


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