• Chatham House Grammar School, Kent, UK
  • BA(Honours) Chemistry, St Catherine’s College, Oxford University, UK, 1965
  • MA, Oxford University, UK, 1968
  • DPhil, Physical Chemistry, St Catherine’s College, Oxford University, UK, 1968


  • The Fenrick De Four Award for Engineering (Gold), NIHERST Awards for Excellence in Science and Technology, 2013
  • Recognition for distinguished support, The Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, 2011
  • Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence, The University of the West Indies, 2005
  • Europe and Africa Regional Award, The Society of Petroleum Engineers, 1998
  • George Sell Prize for best paper 1979, Institute of Petroleum, 1980


  • Fellow, Energy Institute
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry, UK
  • Fellow, The Geological Society of London, UK
  • Member, Society of Petroleum Engineers, UK
  • Member, Board of Engineering, Trinidad and Tobago

Other Achievements:

  • Over 130 peer-reviewed publications
  • Over 100 other publications


Current Post:
Professor Emeritus, Petroleum Studies Unit, Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad

Richard Dawe (Date of Birth: 02 Nov 1943)

Trinidad and Tobago Icons Vol 4

Richard Dawe grew up in England in the 1950s, a bright boy but dyslexic in an era when such disorders often went undiagnosed, being neither recognised nor understood. However, he overcame the critical learning difficulties with reading, calculation and memory to advance through to tertiary education and become an expert in reservoir physics. He had an academic career with 22 years at Imperial College in London and 12 years at The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine where he restructured its Petroleum Studies curriculum by modifying its Petroleum Engineering master’s programme and spearheading the introduction of its Petroleum Geoscience undergraduate programme.

NIHERST interviews Richard Dawe

Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I was born in London in 1943, in the middle of World War II. I was the eldest of three, all born within four years. My parents divorced when I was seven so my mother brought us up. She taught in local primary schools to support us and ensured that we all went to university. We grew up relatively poor but never lacked the basics. I went to the local grammar school when I was just under 11 and had problems in school because I’m dyslexic. At that time I didn’t know and I only found out when my son was diagnosed as dyslexic, many years later! I can’t read fast; spelling can be frustrating and remembering numbers difficult. I can’t remember my cell number! I skip-read, and if I have to read something out aloud, it’s like a bad newscaster- inflexions wrong and everything not emphasised well. I have never read to my children. My learning technique, I suppose, is to understand the basics and the rest follows. I feel science is mainly common sense so that is fine, but literature or languages- that is another matter.

Q: How did you get interested in science?
A: I have always puzzled about how things work and are put together. I am one of those who take things apart but may not always get them back together again. I had a primitive chemistry set when I was 10 and I remember the smell of burning sulphur, crystals and bangs. We did things then which Health and Safety regulations forbid now. At 16, during the holiday vacation while waiting for my A level results, I got a job in London, away from home for the first time, at Tate & Lyle. Some of the sugar cane came from Trinidad. I worked in their laboratory, read a book on sugar refining by Oliver Lyle, was introduced to practical chemical engineering and wrote my first ever report on a set of experiments on invert sugar − a mixture
of equal parts of glucose and fructose resulting from the hydrolysis of sucrose. And so when I went back to school, I had grown up a bit. In October 1960, I won a place at St Catherine’s College in Oxford to read chemistry and went just before I turned 18 in 1961.

Q: What was your academic and career history before coming to UWI?
A: Chemistry at Oxford is four years. I enjoyed physical chemistry but I couldn’t remember the big words and formulae in inorganic and organic chemistry.

Physical chemistry has a “simple” basis, is logical and has an applicable practicality about it. In my fourth year I worked on the solubility of gases in water for divers’ bends – the potentially fatal intoxication you get if you dive too deep while breathing regular air. Normally below 100 feet they use helium but we were trying to find a replacement to be able to go to deeper points safely. Alas most gases are toxic. Afterwards, I won a British Gas scholarship and worked for my doctorate on the high temperature viscosity of gases (resistance to flow) and the interaction of gas molecules. As I was finishing I applied for a position at the Chemical Engineering department at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. I went there as an assistant lecturer in October 1968 and spent a year trying to develop a glass apparatus to accurately measure quantities of vapour and liquid produced by a boiling mixture (usually known as vapour-liquid equilibria). I then moved to the Leeds University Chemical Engineering department. The first research challenge there was to develop, possibly for commercial exploitation, an apparatus to measure the enthalpy of gases which is the sum of the internal energy of the system plus the product of the pressure of the gas in the system and its volume. We used the Joule-Thomson effect−the principle that when a gas rapidly expands it usually, but not always, cools.

Obtaining the enthalpy this way is much quicker than the then standard method used by the National Standards Laboratory, USA. In 1975 after six years at Leeds, I moved on to Imperial College. Oil had just been discovered in the North Sea and Imperial College had been selected to be a major oil and gas education centre. I spent the next 22 years there, became Senior Lecturer in 1986 and then Reader in Reservoir Physics in 1991. My research
concentrated mainly on visualisation of multiphase flow in porous media at pore and core scale. During this period I supervised over 24 graduates to their PhD and saw some 500 graduate from our MSc in Petroleum Engineering programme.

I then moved on to the University of Qatar as the Occidental Chair in Petroleum Engineering. I had no idea where Qatar was and knew no Arabic. However, Qatar is special. There is a field there, the Dukhan field, which is some 80 km long− more or less the whole length of Trinidad. Offshore there is the largest gas field in the world and the Qatari (men) are the richest people per capita in the world. Then in January 1999, just as my contract was up for renegotiation, the oil price dropped to nine dollars per barrel so it was time to leave. At that time I saw an advert for a Chair in Petroleum Engineering at UWI St Augustine. I had previously been an external examiner for the Petroleum Engineering programmes and had visited Trinidad in 1991. Trinidad had felt familiar. They drive on the sensible side of the road (on a good day), the road signs had a familiarity as they were the same as the old road signs of my childhood in the United Kingdom and there seemed to be a lot of single mothers,like my mother, bringing up children. So in August 1999, I moved to Trinidad as the Trinidad and Tobago Methanol Company Chair (TTMC) in Petroleum Engineering sponsored by the TTMC.

Q: Was there no petroleum engineering at UWI at the time?
A: There had been petroleum engineering at UWI since 1976 supported by the government and there had been a good number of graduates from the programmes going into the industry and some research initiatives. However, the changing oil prices and the consequent changing fortunes of the country meant that the petroleum engineering MSc changed its focus periodically. In 1999, the Petroleum Engineering Unit was struggling so I restructured the programmes to make the delivery more logical and also introduced a field project. These changes ensured that our petroleum engineering graduates from the MSc are ready for entry into industry.

Also in 1999, BP Trinidad and Tobago (bpTT) needed a significant number of junior petroleum geoscientists to help with the exploration activities being carried out but there were none being educated in Trinidad. Thus in 2001 we developed an undergraduate programme in petroleum geoscience in five months, an impossible task according to one senior member of the UWI management team. In April I was going around saying, “I have no staff, no syllabus, no students, no money, no buildings, I am not sure if I am in the right faculty or campus, and we want it by August.” By September we welcomed our first 15 students. The programme development was achieved by the strong support of UWI, the industry and government. One key player was Wayne Bertrand who has been a pillar of TT’s upstream petroleum industry, and a strong supporter of UWI and youngsters’ education
over the decades.

Q: What is the difference between petroleum engineering and petroleum geoscience?
A: Petroleum geoscience uses all aspects of geology and geophysics to suggest where there might be oil and gas trapped underground in reservoirs and in volumes that can give economic returns. After a reservoir comes on stream, petroleum geoscientists monitor production to ensure accurate forecasts and identify potential geological problems and opportunities. Geology is therefore intrinsic to the programme but must be relevant to the hydrocarbon reservoir, that is, porous permeable formations. I often state, “Geology is to geoscience as chemistry is to chemical engineering”.

Petroleum engineers then take that advice, drill to find the hydrocarbons, then exploit the discoveries in an economical way. Petroleum engineering involves the application of earth and physical sciences to the evaluation and exploitation of natural hydrocarbon resources. The dominant problems of the petroleum engineer are those of reserves estimates and flow and equilibrium in porous media, in well bores, in surface pipelines and in primary process equipment. The advice of petroleum geoscientists helps produce it, they scrutinise the economics to say how much money might be made during production and for how long. The upstream process ends with the gas and oil passing down a pipeline or being transported by ship or truck to
a refinery to be converted into useful products, which is the work of chemical and process engineers.

Q: What do you believe to be your legacy?
A: When I retired from the UWI in August 2011, I left the petroleum geoscience and petroleum engineering programmes healthy. Both were staffed with good colleagues and students, with good throughput and programmes accredited by world-class institutions such as the Geology Society of London and the Energy Institute. We were the first geoscience programme outside the UK accredited by the Geological Society of London. I believe
that our programmes are as good as the programmes at Imperial College. They are different and perhaps more practical but good. We now have over 160 graduates from the petroleum geoscience programme and some 270 from the petroleum engineering programme, since I joined the UWI. Many are gaining further degrees, either going abroad or staying in Trinidad and Tobago and with correspondence courses, and so a legacy is being created.
Also many of our graduates have taken up local jobs, in the petroleum or associated industries, even one being a Minister of Energy.

Q: What would you say distinguished you as a teacher or educator?
A: I wouldn’t call myself the best teacher, not only because I didn’t do all of the teaching myself, but also because it isn’t for me to say. I want students to understand, not just learn to repeat. In later life when they are “on the job” they have to act positively, safely and responsibly as leaders. This they can initially learn as a student. For instance, one of the best ways for a student to learn is for them to present material to their peers in class. So one teaching method I often used was to say, “Now you’re going to give me the lectures”. They had to go, research the subject and then present a technical talk for maybe 20 minutes. They taught themselves, each other and even gave me a refresher each semester. When teaching, I based my lectures on material I’d used in Imperial College and I’d tell them, “If it’s good enough for Imperial College, it’s good enough for you. I expect you to be able to rise to that standard. You are as good as they are.” I expected students to perform and at UWI they didn’t disappoint.

Q: What about the need for alternative energies?
A: Although Trinidad itself has currently sufficient hydrocarbon energy, sooner or later it will run out. Worldwide, the major convenient energy sources are hydrocarbons, oil, coal and gas, but they are all CO2 emitters, and require expensive and complicated carbon capture procedures. Currently the world uses 80 to 90 million barrels of oil per day. The world should be moving to using energy obtained from the sun, and also wind, hydro and oceans. Sufficient energy is emitted in a day to satisfy the needs for a year provided proper converting procedures and delivery methodologies are developed. My favourite alternative energy is geothermal energy. Currently some is used near “hot rocks” in Nevis and Guadeloupe but there is sufficient to power the whole of the Caribbean if you have a long enough piece of wire! But if you drill down into the ground it gets warmer; so if you go deep enough and circulate water you can extract the heat. If the hot water is passed through a vapour power generator, electricity is produced and the now cooler water can be recycled. Environmentally friendly yes, but it is not economic at the moment but I am sure it will be in the future. And when that comes around it will require the skills of the petroleum engineers and the geoscientists to guide the process, so we won’t be out of business.

Q: Do we need more scientists?
A: We do, but not just in the way people often think. It’s true that we need really good scientists who can invent and develop big things, but I believe the whole world ought to be technically competent. Thus aside from famous inventors and innovators, we also need a population that understands the relevance of science and its principles, and makes common sense decisions that are logical rather than hidden under “political correctness” which are really wrong and non-beneficial to the world e.g. approaches to climate change. The Petroleum Studies Unit is making its contribution and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come.