Geological and Geophysical Sciences, Department of.

Geological and Geophysical Sciences, Department of. Instruction in geology was first offered from 1818 to 1822 by the Professor of Experimental Philosophy, Chemistry, and Natural History, Jacob Green, who gave courses in paleontology. Thereafter instruction in this area lapsed until 1855 when Arnold Guyot, a colleague of Louis Agassiz at Neuchatel, Switzerland, arrived in Princeton to begin what has become the present department. Continuous instruction has been given in geology or, more broadly, the earth sciences ever since.

Until 1873 Guyot was the sole faculty member in geology and physical geography. During the next ten years four men came to Princeton to offer instruction and carry on research in the general field of geology. Henry B. Cornwall, a chemist, taught mineralogy. William Libbey 1877, first to receive the doctoral degree at Princeton (1879), taught physical geography. William Berryman Scott 1877 arrived with Libbey in 1880 and began his long career in vertebrate paleontology. His classmate, Henry Fairfield Osborn, was in the section of biology. In those days the general subject of geology was handled in three separate divisions: applied chemistry and mineralogy, physical geography, and geology -- and sometimes with the cooperation of the section of biology.

In 1904, when the Department of Geology was formally created, six men made up the faculty: in physical geography, Libbey; in mineralogy, Cornwall and Alexander H. Phillips (whose constant laugh is commemorated in the Faculty Song: ``Ha Ha Phillips, he he he / Teaches mineralogy''); in vertebrate paleontology, Scott and Marcus Farr; and in invertebrate paleontology, Gilbert Van Ingen. The following year Charles H. Smyth (father of two other Princeton professors, the chemist Charles P. Smyth and the physicist Henry De W. Smyth) arrived to teach petrology, and William J. Sinclair joined the vertebrate paleontologists.

Chairman of the new department was ``Geology Bill'' Scott, who gave an even fifty years of continuous service on the Princeton faculty from 1880 to 1930, equaling the record set by President John Maclean in 1868. During his fifth year as chairman, the department moved to Guyot Hall, which had been built with funds provided by the mother of Cleveland Dodge 1879.

Princetons international reputation in the earth sciences during the early days of the department stemmed from the presence of Scott. But it was Smyth who attracted the graduate students, a fact Scott cheerfully recognized. Smyth taught courses in petrology and chemical geology, both relatively new subjects in this country. The popularity of these subjects and the related subject of mineralogy was probably due to the fact that most jobs were to be found in the fields of mining geology and mineral exploration. Not until the late 1920s and early 1930s did the expanding petroleum industry create large demands for people with paleontological and stratigraphic training.

From 1920 to 1930 a new generation of geologists arrived, all overlapping original members of the department. These men, who included Arthur Buddington, Arthur K. Snelgrove, Edward Sampson, W. Taylor Thom, Paul MacClintock, Glenn L. Jepsen, Erling Dorf, Richard M. Field, and Benjamin F. Howell, carried the department's distinction into the 1950s. On their retirement in the late 1950s, Thom, Buddington, Howell, MacClintock, and Sampson had together served Princeton for 173 years.

During the immediate prewar years the department experienced a large increase in both undergraduate and graduate enrollments. During the war the faculty helped hundreds of armed forces trainees discover the techniques of map and terrain interpretation as part of their officer training.

Buddington served as chairman of the department for fourteen years and was succeeded in 1950 by Harry H. Hess, who served for sixteen years. Under Hess's leadership the department acquired its present form.

Hess, who was hired as a mineralogist in 1934, developed into a remarkable generalist. His interests extended from objects of microscopic size to ocean basins measured in thousands of kilometers, and ranged from the deep interior of the earth to the moon and beyond. His single most important achievement was the formulation, in 1960, of the concept of ``sea-floor spreading.'' This idea, introduced as a bit of ``geopoetry,'' literally shook the foundations of geology, giving the subject a framework as important to it as organic evolution, the periodic table, and the atom have been to biology, chemistry, and physics.

In the decade following World War II, new faculty members included John C. Maxwell (who succeeded Hess as chairman), Franklyn B. Van Houten, H. D. Holland, William Bonini, Sheldon Judson (who followed Maxwell as chairman), Alfred G. Fischer, Jorma O. Kalliokoski, and Hollis D. Hedberg.

Geophysics became an important part of the departmental program of instruction and research in the early 1960s; this significant addition was recognized in 1968 by changing the name Department of Geology to Department of Geological and Geophysical Sciences. Walter Elsasser was followed by Robert Phinney, Fred Vine, Jason Morgan, and Anthony Dahlen. The work of this group soon attracted worldwide attention, particularly through the studies of Morgan and Vine. Building on the ideas of Hess, Vine demonstrated the reality of the timing of sea-floor spreading through magnetic studies of the sea floor, and Morgan defined and described the plates that make up the jigsaw puzzle of the earth's crust.

A well-known facility of the department is the Museum of Natural History in Guyot Hall. Originally called the E. M. Museum of Geology and Archaeology (after Elizabeth Marsh, the mother of William Libbey), it moved from what is now the Faculty Room in Nassau Hall when Guyot Hall opened in 1908. It has included among its directors Guyot (its founder), Libbey, Sinclair, and Jepsen. Its exhibits are drawn from excellent collections of minerals, rock types, vertebrate and invertebrate specimens. The department for many years has also served as a repository for some important ethnological collections from the American Northwest, the South Seas, Africa, and the southwestern United States.

As of the 1970s, the department maintained a cooperative program in Water Resources with Civil Engineering, another in Geophysical Fluid Dynamics with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration's Laboratory, and still another in Geological Engineering with the School of Engineering. The department had a full-time faculty of sixteen and, in addition, six visiting scientists. Its Ph.D. program enrolled between thirty and forty students, and undergraduate majors graduating each year numbered between fifteen and twenty-five.

Sheldon Judson

From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

Go to Search A Princeton Companion