James McNeill

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James McNeill
James Duncan McNeill headshot.png
Latest company Geonics
BSc Physics
MSc Radio Astronomy
BSc university Dalhousie University
MSc university University of Toronto


Biography Citation for the Cecil Green Enterprise Award

Contributed by Alexander Kaufman

This award honors a geophysicist who has introduced new principles and methods of exploration geophysics to civil and environmental scientists and engineers.

Duncan McNeill received his BSc in physics from Dalhousie University and his MA in radio astronomy from the University of Toronto. After working for several years in electrooptics, he joined Barringer Research where he was quickly induced by Tom Barringer's enthusiasm to change his field of endeavor to the development of new electromagnetic techniques for rapidly mapping subsurface geology. In 1974, be became owner and president of GeonicsSa company already famous for innovative instruments, which now has products in virtually every government environmental lab and in the offices of every consulting company which is active in groundwater and environmental investigations.

The acceptance of Geonics' instrumentation has come about as a result of the professionalism for which Duncan is honored. He has shown a special ability to foresee new problem areas in the earth sciences and to define a role that geophysical methods could play in their solutions. This has arisen from a strong personal desire to learn about subjects far removed from the conventional fields of geophysical exploration. As a consequence, Geonics' instrumentation has made significant contributions to civil engineering, sea-ice thickness mapping, permafrost engineering, environmental site assessment, groundwater exploration, groundwater contamination mapping, soil salinity mapping, and the application of geophysics to archaeology.

Duncan has a good basic knowledge and keen interest in physics, electronics and geology, which has led to the design of a wide range of electromagnetic instrumentation based on very sound physical principles. Furthermore, he has always expended considerable effort on each new instrument to supply the user with both the theoretical background behind the design as well as suggested interpretational techniques.

In line with this interest, Duncan has also shown a strong drive to teach his clients (many of whom are not trained geophysicists) in the art of using geophysics. To accomplish this, he has written 25 Geonics Technical Notes, many of which are widely used by environmental consulting companies, and also as teaching aids, by universities and technical schools. He also conducts, together with the staff of Geonics, seminars on the use of electromagnetic techniques for different applications. Anyone who contacts Duncan at Geonics with a technical question does not leave until they and Duncan are both completely satisfied with his answers and explanations. At environmental shows, the Geonics booth is often surrounded by engineers and hydrologists anxious to learn more about the application of all types of geophysics to their problems. Of particular importance, especially in these difficult times, is the fact that his constant efforts to introduce exploration geophysical methods into new fields, such as environmental mapping, has created job opportunities for geophysicists.

On a more technical level, the paper "Approximate calculations of the transient electromagnetic response from buried conductors in a conductive half-space" (McNeill, R. N. Edwards and G. M. Levy, Geophysics 1984) was the first to suggest that galvanic current component in the time-domain electromagnetic response from two- and three-dimensional targets could often be large enough to completely vitiate an interpretation based on the vortex current flow. Recognition of this fact has revolutionized our understanding of the electromagnetic response in mineral exploration surveys. Similarly, his tutorial "Geological mapping using VLF radio fields" (McNeill and V. F. Labson, Electromagnetic Methods in Applied Geophysics, Vol. 2, Part B, 1991), which explores the importance of galvanic current response for plane-wave excitation, has, for the first time, placed our understanding of the interaction of VLF radio waves with the subsurface two- and three-dimensional abnormalities on a firm foundation.

This award is about "entrepreneuring," without which we would have far fewer new geophysical instruments. It commonly takes five years and the expenditure of one million dollars before a newly conceived electromagnetic instrument is ready for the market. For a person like Duncan McNeill, who has for 20 years risked his personal finances in the development of many successful and innovative new geophysical instruments, this award is totally appropriate.