Heather Viles is a geographer with major interests in geomorphology and heritage science. Much of her research focuses on the application of science to heritage conservation. She is Associate Head (Research) for the Social Sciences Division, Professor of Biogeomorphology and Heritage Conservation; Oxford lead and Co-Director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering in Art, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA); and Honorary Professor at the Institute of Sustainable Heritage, University College London. She leads the Oxford University Heritage Network.
Heather obtained an MA in Geography from the University of Cambridge, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. Her DPhil thesis focused on the role of microorganisms in weathering limestone and was based on fieldwork on Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. After completing her DPhil, she undertook post-doctoral research on the contribution of acid rain to the deterioration of English cathedrals.
Heather was awarded the 2015 Ralph Alger Bagnold Medal from the European Geosciences Union for her role in establishing the field of biogeomorphology and the 2019 Melvin G. Marcus lifetime career award, Geomorphology Specialty Group, American Association of Geographers. In 2020 Heather was awarded the Founder's Medal by the Royal Geographical Society with IBG. She is also a Fellow of the British Society for Geomorphology.
Heather has considerable academic administrative experience, having been Director of Undergraduate Studies (2008-2011), Director of Research (2012-2015), and Head of the School of Geography and the Environment (2015-2019), as well as Vice Provost of Worcester College (2012-2014). She is now President of the British Society for Geomorphology (2019- ), having previously been Chair from 2012 to 2014. From 2008 to 2011, she was Vice-President (Expeditions and Fieldwork) of the Royal Geographical Society with IBG. She was on the advisory panel of the £6.5 million AHRC/EPSRC Science and Heritage Programme from 2008-2012, and was also a member of the National Heritage Science Strategy steering group co-ordinated by English Heritage and charged with developing a UK-wide Heritage Science Strategy to shape UK-wide policy over the next 25 years. Heather also represents the University of Oxford as a trustee of the Oxford Preservation Trust. She is one of the Senior Editors of Earth Surface Dynamics, having served for 6 years as an Associate Editor of Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, and is also on the editorial boards of Transactions, Institute of British Geographers and Atmospheric Environment.
Over the years, Heather has carried out field-based research in NW Australia, South Africa, Namibia, Washington State, the Atacama Desert in Chile, South Germany, the Sahara Desert in Libya and NW China, as well as many places within the UK.