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Professor Stefan Nielsen

Professor, Director of Postgraduate Studies & Postgraduate Admissions

Professor, Director of Postgraduate Studies & Postgraduate Admissions in the Department of Earth Sciences+44 (0) 191 33 44308



Link to my research blog »


2017   now  Full Professor, Earth Sciences Department, Durham University. 

2013 2017 Reader,  Earth Sciences Department, Durham University.

2003 – 2013  Senior Researcher, Istituto Nazionale di Geofsica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Dpt. of Seismology and Tectonophysics.

2000 – 2002  Researcher, Istituto Nazionale di Geofsica e Vulcanologia (INGV), Dpt. of Seismology and Tectonophysics. Detached to the University of Napoli Federico II, Dpt. Scienze Fisiche.

1997 – 1999  Research Associate at University of California, Santa Barbara (Physics Dpt. and Institute for Crustal Studies).

1996 – 1997  Marie Curie postdoctoral grant of the European Community, Dpt. of Geophysics and Volcanology, University of Napoli Federico II, Italy.

1994 – 1996 — Post-doctoral fellow of the SCEC (Southern California Earthquake Center, U.S.C.), at Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, University of California, Los Angeles.

1990 – 1993 — PhD, Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris

Research highlights

I am a geophysicist with active research in

- Earthquake mechanics and seismology

- Rock and fault mechanics 

- Near-surface geophysics for imaging of archaeological, environmental and masonry structures 

- A.I. for seismic signal classification

- Modelling of seismic waves, rupture, thermal diffusion, frictional heating

- Geothermal energy

My central interest is in dynamics of earthquake rupture. I am exploring the rupture process using tools like laboratory experiments, numerical modeling and field geology. One of the main questions I am trying to answer is what is the frictional behavior of faults during the fast and short earthquake slip episodes? How can it affect the rupture propagation and hazardous seismic radiation? I order to shed light on these questions I started to work several years ago with scientists from different backgrounds. We created an international group with specialties ranging from field structural geology and microstructures of faults, laboratory methods to deform rocks at high speed and analytical/numerical methods to help upscale the results from the small scale of the lab (rock samples of a few cm) to the large scale (natural seismic fault dimensions can reach tens of kilometers).

I have diversified my research beyond seismology with the use of near-surface exploration tools that I use to investigate archaeological sites, masonery structures and agricultural fields, more specifically with use of Electric Resistivity Tomography (GPR) and low-frequency Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR).

Links to examples of research material:

Resistivity transect of Prebends bridge

Resistivity transect of Prebends bridge, Durham, UK

Photoelastic stress imaging on laboratory earthquake fault

Imaging stress on a laboratory simulated earthquake fault

Committee and Society Service

2023 — Panel member for the Infrastructure Program - Science Foundation Ireland

2021 — Panel member for the Infrastructure Program - Science Foundation Ireland

2011 — Member of the International Earth Science Olympiad comitate 5th edition (IESO 2011)

2010 — Reviewer for ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche)

2010 — JSPS (Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) - Review College

2012 — Czech Science Foundation (GACR) Review College

Currently Director of Post-Graduate Research, Earth Sciences Department, Durham University


1997 — 1999 Postodoctoral fellow at UCSB, Santa Barbara, Physics Department and Institue for Crustal Studies

1996 Marie Curie European Fellowship

1994 SCEC (Southern California Earthquake Center) Fellowship , postdoctoral grant

Invited Talks and Visiting Professorships

2023 — The Earthquake Dissipative Engine: Energy Budget and Partition. Workshop on Mechanics of the Earthquake Cycle, ICTP (International Centre for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy). 

2018Triggering dynamic slip instability on heterogeneous faults: model and experiment – Invited talk. S. Nielsen et al., AGU Washington DC 

2017 Gradual or abrupt earthquake rupture initiation controlled by fault structure – Invited talk. S. Nielsen et al., AGU New Orleans

2011 — Experimental and field constraints on seismic source models – Invited talk. S. Nielsen, The second QUEST Workshop, Hveragerdi, Iceland 

2010 — Reconstructing features of earthquake dynamics from field and experimental observations – Invited talk. Nielsen, Stefan; Griffith, W Ashley; Di Toro, Giulio; Niemeijer, Andre; Smith, Steven A F. Annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (2010)

2010 — Photo-acoustic study of supershear ruptures in the laboratory – Invited talk. Nielsen, S, Schubnel, A , Taddeucci, J, Vinciguerra, S and Rao, S. 7th ACES International Workshop, OTARU, Japan

2010 — Creating earthquake avatars in the laboratory – Invited talk. Nielsen, S. Albert Tarantola Homage Workshop, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris

2009 — Invited professor, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris (Laboratoire de Géologie du Département géosciences

Recent and Current Grants

2024 – 2024 Durham Seedcorn FARMS — Future Agricultural Research Management Schemes. Integrating science, farmers, environment and food security in a changing climate. PI D. Groecke, S. Nielsen team member

2023 – 2023 NERC Research Experience Placement. Tomographic imaging of a historical monument (Prebends bridge, Durham, UK). PI S. Nielsen

2023 – 2024 UKRI GEMS – Geothermal Energy from Mines and Solar Geothermal Heat. PI J. van Hunen, SN Team member of the Earth Sciences, Durham University

2021 – 2022 NERC Growing roots public engagement grant ENGEY - ENgagement for mining Geothermal EnergY (GR050). Outreach events about the environment and geothermal energy. PI S. Nielsen 

2014 – 2019 ERC NOFEAR rf050244 – New Outlook on seismic faults: From EARthquake nucleation to arrest. PI G. di Toro, S.  Nielsen team-member and research coordinator for Durham University beneficiary

2014 – 2017 NERC Capital grant HiFAST £150k  – A portable, high-frequency acquisition system to measure dynamic stress and strain of natural rocks experimentally deformed at seismic, high strain-rates. PI S. Nielsen

2011 – 2012 Program GALILEO: Experimental study on propagation of earthquake rupture – INGV Co-ordinator for project, PI A. Schubnel, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Paris

2008 – 2013 ERC USEMS project: Uncovering the Secrets of an Earthquake, a Multidisciplinary Study. PI G. di Toro, S. Nielsen  team member and research co-ordinator for INGV

2003 – 2005 PRIN Towards a unified vision of geophysical phenomena – P.I. A. Piersanti, INGV, S. Nielsen Research Co-ordinator, 

2005 – 2005 INGV Progetto di studio della sorgente sismica a partire da affioramenti di faglie fossili (Study of seismic sources from exhumed fault zones) – S. Nielsen Co-PI

Research interests

  • Earthquake and fault mechanics
  • Laboratory experimentrs (Rock Mechanics, Rotary shear friction)
  • Field geology on exhumed seismic faults
  • Numerical, mathematical and analog modeling
  • Machine Learning techniques and Neural Networks
  • Near-surface geophysical imaging of the environment (GPR, ERT, Seismic)


Journal Article

Supervision students