Prof. J. Derek Fairhead received the B.Sc. (Honours) degree in Geology and Physics from Durham University, Durham, UK, in 1967 and the M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Geophysics from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, in 1968 and 1975, respectively.
His university teaching and research career was spent at the University of Leeds (1972–2013), initially as a Lecturer in Geophysics, then as a Senior Lecturer, and then as the Chair of Applied Geophysics.
His main teaching role was in the use of gravity and magnetic methods in oil and mineral exploration to Master students on the postgraduate course in Exploration Geophysics. His research was focused on the regional understanding of extensional tectonics (rifting) in Africa and was responsible for defining the West and Central African Rift System.
Since about 2000, his research has focused on improving and developing new methods of interpreting potential field data.
In 1994, Fairhead was honoured with a medal from the Bureau Gravimétrique International (BGI) “for outstanding works on the Earth’s gravity” and in 1999 by the SEG with a Special Commendation Award: “In recognition of meritorious service rendered to the scientific community, the Earth Sciences and Exploration Geophysics”.
In 1986, he founded the University of Leeds company, Getech, which, over a period of 10 years, compiled the world’s largest gravity and magnetic database for commercial use and provides gravity and magnetic processing and interpretation services to the oil and mining industries. Getech spun-out from the University in 2000 and then floated on the AIM market in 2005. He was the President of the plc company until his retirement in December 2013.