about people and
AGI's 40 member societies
In 1978, John McPhee set out to write a short piece for The New Yorker about
a road cut outside of New York City. He wanted to tell the story of the rocks,
their age and how they came to be along the side of the road. But when he visited
the road cut with geologist Ken Deffeyes of Princeton University, what started
as a one-day field trip and write-up grew into a much larger narrative. McPhee
began to think about following the structure across the country east to west
and the story that path would tell. Once I got into that, I discovered
it involved a great deal more than I imagined, McPhee says. At first he
anticipated such a project would take him about a year to complete. Then the
thing you expect to do in one day you do in 20 years, thats how it goes,
he says. The complete story is told in his book Annals of the Former World,
which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999.
The Geological Society of America (GSA) is now honoring McPhee for the scientific quality of his stories, which have garnered widespread use and acclaim among educators and the public. Through his writings and books, John McPhee has probably done more to popularize the science of geology than any other writer, says Mary Lou Zoback, former president of the society. He not only explains the science in intriguing terms but also talks about the people behind the science and the thrill of discovery that motivates them. GSA will present McPhee with its 2002 Public Service Award at its annual meeting this month in Denver, Colo.
Im immensely honored, McPhee says. Im not a professional geologist and that geologists would think enough of this to single it out and make that award is about as rewarding as anything could possibly be.
Richard Gordon of Rice University in Houston is this years recipient
of GSAs Arthur L. Day Medal.
If I could dream of any medal that I might be ever so fortunate to get, the one that means the most to me is the Day Medal, Gordon says. GSAs Day Medal makes an important connection between geophysics and geology and recognizes scientists for achievements that have substantially affected both fields. When I was a graduate student my advisor received this medal, as did his advisor when he was a student, Gordon says.
In the years since Gordon studied under the late Allan Cox at Stanford University in the 1970s, the understanding of plate tectonics has exceeded the pace of introductory textbooks. Working with fellow graduate students in the 1950s, Cox had pursued the evidence for reversals in Earths magnetic field under the advice of geophysics professor John Verhoogen. Today Gordon teaches his students global tectonics, with a skeptical eye on plate boundary maps. In introductory textbooks the plate boundaries are drawn as if they were all narrow.
Richard Gordon pictured in St. Lucia. Photo by S. Singletary.
While that works well for mid-ocean ridges and the transform faults that offset them, its wrong for much of Earth. He points out for example that the Indoaustralia plate represented in most maps fails to teach the current understanding of the plates boundary and internal structure. GSA is honoring Gordon for his use of paleomagnetic data to quantify relative plate motion, study of diffuse plate boundaries and development of the global plate motion model, NUVEL-1. A lot of the basic results of that model have been verified by GPS, says Dave Fountain, chair of GSAs 2002 Day Medal selection committee.
Gordons advice to students is: Trust your own judgment and convince others to trust it too. The trick to doing that, he says, is to provide high-level documentation and present the material clearly.
About 40 years ago, Sam Adams of Lincoln, N.H., joined GSA with the idea of
serving the geologic community. Currently Geotimes editor-in-chief, Adams
is now one of three GSA members to receive the societys 2002 Distinguished
Service Award. GSA is also honoring David Dunn of the University of Texas at
Dallas and John Geissman of the University of New Mexico for their outstanding
service to the society. And John Lovering of Australia will be named an Honorary
Fellow. Lovering is one of the founders of the fission-track geochronology method.
Adams says that volunteering to serve on GSA committees, or any society for that matter provides benefits few students are taking advantage of these days. Inevitably there is a tremendous return to individuals volunteering in an organization that represents their field of study. By participating and contributing to a society, your circle of colleagues grows, as well as your professional credentials, he says. This volunteering business is a joint venture young professionals and professionals take on without merit or ceremony, but it carries with it a lot of responsibility and opportunities for the future. Any young professional who doesnt seize those opportunities and deliver faithfully has missed a big one.