Leading geochemist an inspiration to many

Published 16 September 2008

A leading Australian geochemist, who pioneered the use of bauxite refinery residues in environmental remediation, will be farewelled by family, friends and colleagues in Lismore on Wednesday.

Professor David McConchie, who held a chair in Engineering and Environmental Geochemistry at Southern Cross University, died unexpectedly on September 2 while on his way to the 8th International Alumina Quality Workshop in Darwin.

Professor McConchie was an inspiring teacher, receiving the Southern Cross University Vice-Chancellor’s award for teaching excellence in 1995. He also played a pivotal role in the development of the University’s research profile. With colleague Peter Saenger, he obtained the University’s first Australian Research Council grant in 1989, when it was part of the University of New England network. He was a finalist in the Eureka Prize for environmental research in 1995 and 1996, and co-authored two major texts, Practical Sedimentology and Analytical Sedimentology, described in a review in The Australian Geologist as ‘contemporary classics’.

Shortly after his arrival in 1987 to what was then the Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education, he established the Environmental Analysis Laboratory (EAL) to provide analytical services to students, staff and the community. This formed the foundation of a major research facility, and substantially improved the research capability of the growing University.

His work ranged widely: the geochemistry of trace metals in sediment, water and biota; acid sulphate soils and acid rock drainage; early diagenetic mineral transformations; trace element speciation in sediments; the influence of biota on trace element distributions in sediment and water; applications of geochemical engineering; and the use of bauxite refinery residues in environmental remediation. This latter work captured the attention of the world, and the technology is now being marketed by Virotec International.

During the last eight years he spent considerable time overseas as an expert scientific advisor to many governments and industries in Europe, the USA, Northern Ireland, Romania, India and Asia.

He was a member of many professional organisations including the Association of Applied Geochemists, the Society for Sedimentary Research, the American Geological Institute, the Geological Society of Australia, the Geological Society of New Zealand, the Clay Minerals Society and the New York Academy of Sciences.

David led the Applied Geochemistry Research Group at Southern Cross University, and co-founded the Centre for Research on Acid Sulphate Soils. Consistent with being an applied scientist, he was actively engaged in translating science to industry. He was a director and chief scientist for Virotec Global Solutions Ltd, a director of ReMine Gold Pty Ltd, RISATEC Pty Ltd, and Mt Aspiring Geochemistry Consultants Pty Ltd.

He received numerous research grants, published over 100 research papers and five books, made over 80 conference presentations, prepared over 300 consultancy reports, and is an author of seven patents.

David was a fine mentor of his students and fellow staff. His generosity of spirit and intellectual curiosity were greatly admired and of importance to the institution. He was an innovative thinker, his legacy being a range of new ways to solve intractable problems. He took most delight in using waste products to eliminate environmental contamination.

He leaves his wife Fiona, with whom he shared his career; a daughter, Keetah, and a son Jade; and a worldwide collegiate of academics and researchers.

His funeral will be held in the chapel at Lismore Crematorium on Wednesday, September 17, at 2pm.

Photo: Professor David McConchie.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.