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Caltech Professor Gerald Wasserburg, Who Established Time Scale for the Development of the Early Solar System, Dies at 89

Published on Friday, June 17, 2016 | 5:19 am
Portrait of Gerald Wasserburg taken by photographer Florence Helmberger Credit: Caltech Archives

Gerald J. Wasserburg, John D. MacArthur Professor of Geology and Geophysics, Emeritus, passed away on June 13, 2016. He was 89 years old.

Gerry Wasserburg’s research focused on the origins and history of the solar system and its component bodies. His work established a time scale for the development of the early solar system including the end of the process of nucleosynthesis and the formation about 4.5 billion years ago of solid objects such as the earth and the moon, other planets, and certain meteorites. He also is acknowledged widely for his isotope studies of lunar materials collected by the Apollo missions and his involvement in U.S. space research programs. He and his colleagues also did important work on the dating of rocks, on the evolution of the earth through time, and on the modern oceans.

Wasserburg earned his SB, SM, and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago (in 1951, 1952, and 1954), and joined the Caltech faculty in 1955 as an assistant professor of geology. He became an associate professor in 1959, professor of geology and geophysics in 1963, MacArthur Professor in 1982, and he retired in 2001.

He served as chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences from 1987 to 1989 and as executive officer for geochemistry over the same time period.

He was the recipient of numerous honors, including the Arthur L. Day Medal from the Geological Society of America (1970), the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (1972 and 1978), the Wollaston Medial of the Geological Society of London (1985), the Crafoord Prize in Geosciences (1986), the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1991), and the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union (2008). He was a member of the National Academy of Science, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Science, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.

A full obituary will be published at a later date.

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