Skip to Content

Department Head’s Letter, Fall 2005

Amazingly, the new school year is upon us once again, Eugene’s streets are clogged with rental trucks and thousands of students are reclaiming the university neighborhoods. The crisp fall mornings are back and we’re all looking forward to class field trips to the mountains or coast before winter sets in. As always, last year was a busy one and in this newsletter I want to share with you the accomplishments of the year just passed and our goals for the year just beginning.

Comings and Goings

Comings

image002.jpg We couldn’t be happier with the outcome of our faculty search in paleontology/ biogeoscience last year. The search attracted some 60 applications and after interviewing outstanding scientists with both paleontological and geobiological leanings we decided to take the department in a new direction with the hire of biogeoscientist Dr. Qusheng Jin. Qusheng hails originally from mainland China and he received his Ph.D. from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he worked with Professor Craig Bethke. At present he is a postdoctoral fellow working with Professor Jill Banfield at UC–Berkeley. Qusheng is an expert in the thermodynamics and kinetics of microbial respiration and interactions of microbial communities with geological environments. He has been busy purchasing laboratory equipment so he’ll be ready to begin assembling his lab after his arrival which is expected in late December, just in time for winter term. Qusheng and his delightful wife Rose (see photo) are looking forward to settling in the Pacific Northwest and, word has it, they’ve already made a good start on a young family!

image005.jpgAnother new arrival this year is Kari Niebauer who just joined us this summer, replacing in the front office long-time receptionist and graduate secretary Pat Kallunki, who retired in June. Kari is a recent UO graduate with a double major in anthropology and psychology. She’s originally from the Seattle area but decided after her years in Eugene that she wanted to stay in the area. Kari brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the department as well as a lot of good cheer and phenomenal organizational skills. Kari is very quick and has already worked out that while we are an unusual group, there is a lot of fun to be had here!

Goings

image008.jpgWe had two staff retirements last Spring, both of which left us with big holes to fill. After 10+ years with the Department, representing us in the front office and handling our graduate admissions process, Pat Kallunki decided to join her husband Rich in retirement. We had a big send-off party complete with a spectacular cake. We wish Pat all the best in all of her future activities.

image003.jpgPat Ryan, long time geophysics support technician and department computer guru, also chose to retire last spring. However, we think that Pat enjoys what he does too much to sever ties completely and he will stay on in a part time capacity for some time, continuing to run the Oregon portion of the USGS Pacific Northwest Seismic Array. As a consequence, we still see Pat regularly and continue to enjoy his company. Dennis Fletcher, a graduate and long time associate of the Department will take over Pat’s departmental computer responsibilities.

Hiring Plans

As I write, advertisements are just appearing for what I expect will be the last search we’ll run for a while. Those of you who have been following along know that we’ve run one, two, and even as many as three faculty searches during most of the past ten years while I’ve been department head. This year’s search is designed to round out our efforts in marine seismology and tectonics and represents a new half-time, tenure-track position. Gene Humphreys will chair this search committee and he will be assisted by Josh Roering and David Schmidt. Our ad for this position is posted under “Employment” elsewhere on this web page.

Faculty Activities

Ilya Bindeman joined us just last January and has been busy building the laser fluorination line on which he’ll prepare samples for isotopic analysis on the new mass spectrometer he hopes to acquire this year. Ilya also taught his first class as a university professor last winter when he offered Isotope Geochemistry which had not been offered in the Department for some years, since the late Gordon Goles last offered it. Ilya is just back from a very full field season, having spent time in Iceland with Icelandic colleagues and in Kamchatka with new graduate student Sarah Auer and Russian colleagues. He has a proposal pending to launch a big project working on the gigantic volcanoes of the Kamchatkan Peninsula. Ilya is also gearing up to teach his first large enrollment, general education class, Volcanoes and Earthquakes.

Kathy Cashman broke with her usual tradition and spent much of the summer at home in Eugene. But, that’s not to say that her traveling days are over. Indeed, she’s just back from a full year’s sabbatical that brought her to Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Italy, and Great Britain (at least!). She was based in Pisa, Italy and, word has it, she picked up a good deal of the Italian language. It will be good to have Kathy back in our midst this year. In among it all, Kathy also found time to serve as lead-PI, together with Paul Wallace, Mark Reed and Dana Johnston, on a successful equipment proposal that will enable us to replace our aging scanning electron microscope.

Becky Dorsey has just finished her first year back after her sabbatical leave the year before. She and her students and colleagues continue to be active in field research in the Salton Trough region of southern California, as well as in the Blue Mountain region of north central Oregon. Becky is quite excited about the Salton Trough research in particular as she’s been at it long enough that intriguing field relationships are beginning to emerge that are leading her to quite new interpretations of the geologic history of the region. Becky has several manuscripts in the works that she plans to get out before being considered for promotion to full professor, beginning about this time next year.

Gene Humphreys and his students continue their research in seismic tomography, largely focused on large scale problems in the tectonic history of the western U.S. and smaller scale problems related to the Yellowstone Plume, the kinematics of regions in southern California and, most recently, the origin of the uplift that created the basalt-capped granitic Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon. Gene had several new grants funded this past year and is proceeding full speed ahead.

Dana Johnston is beginning his eleventh year as head of the Department which, if he survives it, will secure for him the record of longest serving (surviving?) department head in the history of the Department–surpassing even the late Lloyd Staples. At the end of this year he’ll have one year remaining in his current term and, after that, it will definitely be time for some new blood, energy, and ideas. To ensure that this really happens, Dana has a sabbatical leave planned for the year following his last year as department head. Dana and Ph.D. student Celeste Mercer are finishing up their experimental study of the phase equilibria of basaltic andesite from North Sister Volcano. A proposal he submitted last year for funds to construct a rapid-quench cold-seal laboratory was funded and he’s busy ordering equipment that will hopefully come together into a running lab in the next few months.

Marli Miller taught her large enrollment class in the Geology of the National Parks again last fall, after a year away from the class the previous year when she taught GEOL 101. Winter took her to Death Valley for field studies and during spring she taught Structure. And then, of course, during the summer she directed the Field Camp and taught the portion of it that is taught in Montana. Marli is looking forward to relocating to new space that is currently being remodeled on the first floor of Volcanology.

Mark Reed remains busy as ever with his research, activities in the community, and very generous service as my go-to guy when I need help or advice as department head. Mark has a project underway with Scott Wood at the University of Idaho on Mo mineralization and he is one of a small number of lead-PIs on a grant funding a scientific drill hole on Iceland that they hope will penetrate an active geothermal system deep enough to encounter temperatures in the 500oC range. This latter project will keep Mark and colleagues busy for years to come. This project also brought Dr. Jim Palandri back to the UO as a post-doc with Mark, some five years after he graduated with his Ph.D. from the Department.

Alan Rempel, like Ilya Bindeman, arrived only last January and is still settling in. Alan taught Environmental Geomechanics last spring and he’s just begun teaching the first term of our large Introductory Geology class this fall. Alan and colleagues at Yale University had a proposal funded last spring by the NSF and he submitted two additional proposals over the summer, one to the NSF and the other to the NASA geobiology initiative. Alan has occupied Norm Savage’s former space in Cascade Hall since he arrived but he will relocate to Allan Kays’ former space in Volcanology in November, once the remodeling has been completed.

Greg Retallack stayed close to home for much of last year but he has proposals pending that could bring him and his students back to Antarctica. Greg has two Ph.D. students working with him at present, Christine Metzger and Lisa Emerson. He did a great job for us last year chairing the search committee that brought us geobiologist Qusheng Jin and I think he’s looking forward to setting that sort of duty aside for a while. But, he remains on our graduate admissions committee and that of the Environmental Studies Program so there are probably a good many files waiting to be reviewed still looming in his future.

Josh Roering had a great year, highlighted at the end of the academic year with his receipt of the Ersted Award for Distinguished Teaching. This award recognizes outstanding teaching by newer faculty members and the competition to receive it is intense, to say the least. Josh’s well-deserved recognition was due largely to his outstanding performance in the second term of our large-enrollment Introductory Geology sequence. In addition to the recognition and a crystal apple, the award also carries a $2000 stipend that he will receive each year for the remainder of his career at the UO. In other big news, Josh will be considered for promotion to associate professor with indefinite tenure during the coming year–in fact, his materials are currently in the hands of those outside scientists who will be writing letters about his work for his file. Best of luck Josh!

David Schmidt had a great second year with us last year, highlighted with some very strong teaching evaluations in several classes and the award of his second research grant, this one joint with Ray Weldon for a geodetic study of crustal deformation along the Oregon coast. David is also a principal player on an equipment proposal spearheaded by Doug Toomey to secure funding for a department-wide research computer network.

Doug Toomey’s students Darwin Villagomez and Troy Durant, visiting Turkish postdoc Bulent Kaypak, and research associate Emilie Hooft have had a busy summer judging from the bustling activity I’ve noted in their area during the past several months. Doug has organized a seminar series for Fall term that will bring in experts in the study of mantle plumes which will mesh nicely with his group’s work on the Galapagos hot spot, Emilie’s work on Iceland, and Gene Humphrey’s group’s work on Yellowstone. Doug will co-chair our graduate admissions committee with Paul Wallace this year, giving Ray Weldon some much-deserved relief.

Paul Wallace had another great year with two outstanding highlights. The first was his notification last spring that his promotion to associate professor with indefinite tenure was approved. Paul’s was such an exceptionally strong case that the university administration reached its decision several months earlier than usual. Congratulations Paul! Good as that news was, I think Paul would tell you he values the news that the UO Chemistry Department chose to hire his wife Vickie DeRose even more. Vickie, who has been at Texas A&M University, will join the UO in January and will come in as a full professor. I’m sure Paul and Vickie will relish living in the same town together and not having to share special days like birthdays and anniversaries in airports!!

And finally, Ray Weldon continues his active research into crustal deformation in many locations throughout the world. A big new development is Ray’s appointment to two influential and prestigious groups, the National Earthquake Prediction Panel and a group that will oversee a multiyear, and multimillion dollar effort to update California’s earthquake hazards map. Clearly, Ray’s community holds him in very high regard–as do we!

Staff Activities

image001.jpgOffice Manager Vicki Arbeiter has finished her first complete year with us and seems to be pleased that she chose to join the department. Having come in from off-campus, Vicki had an enormous amount to learn about UO procedures, people, software, and, of course, quirks. Happily, she weathered the storm in style and now looks forward to the coming year during which there will not be new curve balls thrown at her virtually every day. Vicki has figured out who’s who on campus and is clearly well-liked, judging from the service she manages to get for the department. Vicki hired Kari Niebauer just two months ago (to replace Pat Kallunki after her retirement) and the two of them and accountant Dave Stemple are running the Department office like a finely tuned Swiss watch.

Other News

The Gordon G. Goles Memorial Meteorite Collection:

image009.jpgOver the past summer the department put on public display a world class collection of meteorites as a memorial to the late Professor Gordon G. Goles, who passed away two years ago. Gordon had assembled much of the collection for research purposes, but in the years preceding his death he had begun to transform the collection to a display collection through judicious trades with other researchers and dealers. After Gordon’s passing, Dana Johnston took charge of the collection and, with the help of Martin Horejsi (Idaho State University), Alex Ruzicka, and Melinda Huston (Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory, Portland State University), he managed to get all of the specimens identified, classified, and made ready for display. The collection consists of 83 individual specimens, about two-thirds slabs and one-third whole specimens. The collection is housed in a large showcase on the first floor of Cascade Hall that is wired for security.

New and Anticipated Equipment:

image013.jpgimage011.jpg

We’ve had tremendous success with equipment proposals in recent years that have had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on our research activities. Paul Wallace, Kathy Cashman, Mark Reed and Dana Johnston had two major recent successes. The first grant, with Paul as lead-PI, brought us a new five spectrometer Cameca SX-100 electron microprobe. This state-of-the-art instrument was just delivered this past summer and is just now being put into operation. We chose to keep our existing Cameca SX-50 electron microprobe for routine and service work so we are now a two-electron-microprobe-department! The second successful proposal had Kathy Cashman as lead-PI and will enable us to replace our aging scanning electron microscope. We will purchase a so-called variable pressure SEM which can operate over a range of column and sample chamber pressures enabling imaging of delicate samples that cannot be C-coated, such as biological samples or microfossils. At high vacuum it will operate as our current SEM does. This order will be placed in a month or so and the instrument should be installed in a few months. In addition, Dana Johnston was funded to build a rapid-quench cold-seal laboratory that will enable experimentation in the 0-2 kbar range. This pressure range is relevant to ore deposit formation and volcanological vent processes, and will better enable Dana and Kathy, Mark, Ilya, and Paul to collaborate. And finally, Doug Toomey took the lead on a proposal aimed at building a department-wide research computer network, based on MacIntosh G5 machines hanging off of a terabyte storage device and with high-speed switches. This network will be particularly valuable to Doug, Gene Humphreys, and Emile Hooft with their huge seismic tomography data sets, to Josh Roering and students with their enormous digital elevation models, and to David Schmidt and students with their huge geodetic data files.

Other Awards:

Ewart Baldwin (left)Professor Emeritus Ewart Baldwin was selected to receive the Oregon Scientist of the Year Award at the annual meeting of the Oregon Academy of Sciences on the Oregon State University campus last March. Bob Carlson from Whitman College was Ewart’s citationist.

In addition, Ph.D. student Heather Wright (Kathy Cashman: advisor) was selected last year to receive one of very few, very competitive UO Doctoral Dissertation Fellowships. Our Ph.D. students have done quite well in these competitions in the past and Heather is carrying on this tradition.

Volcanology Remodel

After some 40 years of inattention, a significant remodel is currently underway on the entire first floor of the Volcanology Building. This building was originally the University infirmary. It then became the University computer center before being handed over to the Department in 1965 when the Center for Volcanology moved in under Alex McBirney’s leadership. Only minor modifications have been made since then and the building was definitely in need of a “fresh coat of paint”. The Department offered up the southern two-thirds of what many of you will remember as Gordon Goles’ former laboratory to the University to remodel as a classroom. In exchange for this generosity on our part, funding was assembled from various non-Departmental sources to finance remodeling of the entire rest of the floor. Most of this will be cosmetic work, patched walls, painting, new lighting, new blinds and carpeting, but some of it involved removing and relocating some walls, and tearing out two enormous and antiquated air-handling systems. The project should be completed in a month or so. New hire Alan Rempel will occupy about a third of the remodeled space, with offices and labs. Marli Miller will also relocate from the second to the first floor and space will also be provided for Dennis Fletcher and Allan Kays.

The Meierjurgen Fellowship Program

Beginning this year the Department will invite applications and nominations for a Meierjurgen Visiting Fellow each year. This program is funded by a bequest left to the Department by a former student, Mr. Meierjurgen and his wife, with a current value exceeding $400,000. The set up papers for the fund stipulate that the income generated from the fund be used to bring a visiting scholar to the Department for a period of at least one full term. We’re extremely excited about this new opportunity and the available funds will certainly be an attractive inducement for a faculty member from elsewhere who is on sabbatical, for example, to come and be a member of our department for a time. We envision collaborative research opportunities, guest lectures and seminars, and simply the opportunity for our faculty and students to interact with talented scientists that they would not otherwise come in contact with.

A New Philanthropic Opportunity

In another fantastic development, the Department was given a pledge of $100,000 last year from several anonymous donors. This was coupled with a challenge that we raise $50,000 on our own that the new fund would match, two-for-one, bringing the eventual possible value of the capital to $150,000. This fund is named the Emeritus Faculty Tribute Fund, and is meant to pay tribute to our current emeritus faculty members (Ewart Baldwin, Sam Boggs, Alex McBirney, Bill Orr, Allan Kays, Norm Savage, Harve Waff, and Jack Rice). The income generated from this fund will be used to help defray some of the cost of Field Camp for our undergraduates and to provide some summer salary support for graduate students who might not have an alternate source of such support. Last summer we sent out over 800 notices about this tremendous philanthropic opportunity to Department alumni and friends–after all, when were you last offered an opportunity to turn a donation of $100 into $300 or, better yet, $1,000 into $3,000. If you never received such a notice but would like to contribute to this fund, please send a check to the Department and indicate on the memo line “Emeritus Fund”.

Closing Statement

We have another busy year ahead of us with one tenure case, one faculty search and all the many other more routine activities that go with running an academic department. My guess is that I’ll again have lots of good news to share with you next year about this time when I prepare the Newsletter summarizing the coming year’s events. If you’ve been following along from year-to-year, you’ll note that we never managed to pull together a Staples Field Excursion last year. But this year, it looks almost certain that we’ll be running a trip to Costa Rica over Spring Break. If so, we’ll be sure to include digital photos of the trip in next year’s newsletter.

Best wishes–Dana Johnston