Department Head’s Letter, Fall 2006

Department Head’s Letter, Fall 2006

Amazingly, it’s already December and I am just getting to the newsletter I usually try to have done before the start of school in late September. Apologies to anyone who has been checking back from time to time in the hope it would one day materialize! 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


We were very pleased last year to hire Dr. Emilie Hooft-Toomey as our newest addition to the faculty. Emilie received her Ph.D. from the M.I.T.-Woods Hole joint program. Her specialty is in marine seismology, with a particular focus on seismic studies of hot spot/mid-ocean ridge interactions. Two of her primary field areas are Iceland and the Galapagos Archipelago. Emilie has been associated with the department for several years and has been active with NSF-funded research. However, with her children now beyond the infant stage, she decided it was time to launch a more full career and, happily, the pieces fell together in a manner that allowed this to happen here. Thus, we were pleased this fall to welcome Emilie into her new position as a half time, tenure-track, assistant professor. With Emilie now on board, we do not anticipate any future faculty openings in the department until our next retirement and it’s anyone’s guess when that might be.


Regrettably, the faculty decided last spring to close our long-functioning thin section laboratory because it simply was not getting enough use to justify the cost. We concluded that the nature of our science had changed significantly and that our technical needs are now more acute in other areas. Accordingly, thin section technician Lori Suskin left the department last August after 21 years of excellent service.

Hiring Plans

We have yet another faculty search underway this year but this one has a bit of a different twist. The Honors College, a 600 student College within the greater University, is seeking a permanent science faculty member and, after discussions with all of the science department heads, they decided that a hire in paleontology would likely provide a good fit. The idea is that the successful applicant will teach exclusively for the Honors College but will have a departmental and research home with us and will occupy space in one of our buildings. With the retirements of Bill Orr and Norman Savage we lost some of our former strength in this area and this will provide us with a means of rectifying this situation to some degree. The ad for this position is posted on our web page under “employment”.

Faculty Activities

Ilya Bindeman had a great year last year highlighted by the news that his proposal to the NSF for funds to acquire a mass spectrometer for his stable isotope geochemistry lab was funded. During his first year with us he built a laser extraction line which enabled him to prepare samples but these had to be analyzed elsewhere. Now, with the installation last summer of his new MAT 253 mass spectrometer (see photo later in this newsletter), Ilya has a fully functioning lab right here in Cascade Hall. This instrument is also equipped with a custom designed collector assembly, multi-collector capabilities, and TC/EA for hydrogen and oxygen analyses of waters and hydrous minerals and soon, he will add to it an automated device for oxygen isotope analyses of carbonate materials. Former UO Ph.D. student Dr. Jim Palandri splits his time between providing technical support in Ilya’s lab, and work with his former advisor, Mark Reed. Ilya and his wife Elena had a pretty good year on the personal front too, with the arrival last summer of their second son Andrei, Philip’s new younger brother.

Kathy Cashman‘s big news is her selection to receive a Bowen Award from the Volcanology-Geochemistry-Petrology Section of the American Geophysical Union. This is the most prestigious award of the VGP section and cements Kathy’s rightful place among the handful of top volcanologists in the world. She has worked tirelessly and developed an outstanding publication record and an incredible list of past M.S. and Ph.D. advisees, many of who are now out garnering awards of their own! Kathy presented the Bowen Award Lecture at the AGU meeting in San Francisco on December 12 and received the actual award at the annual VGP gathering at the AGU meeting later that evening. We couldn’t be happier for, and prouder of Kathy!

Becky Dorsey‘s dossier for promotion to full professor just left the department with unanimous support from the senior faculty. It will now wend its way through the Dean’s committees and then the Provost’s before finally landing on the Provost’s desk for what we fully expect to be a positive decision. In other news, Becky and Ph.D. student Todd LaMaskin are going great guns on their newly NSF-funded project in the Blue Mountains of central Oregon. This project was also give a significant boost from Dr. Tracy Vallier, who was present in the department for the full fall term as our first Meierjurgen Faculty Fellow (see more on this below).

Emilie Hooft-Toomey has just finished her first term with us as our newest addition to the faculty. She spent much of the late summer and fall term preparing materials for her first class, as well as ordering computers etc. to get her research launched more fully. She is also co-supervising Ph.D. student Darwin Villagomez, who is working on seismic imaging of the mantle beneath the Galapagos Archipelago.

Gene Humphreys just finished his last term before embarking on what sounds like an outstanding sabbatical leave. He plans to spend winter term at the University of Arizona before packing up and heading to France for spring term. Gene continues to be the proposal factory he’s always been and eagerly looks forward to getting away from the phone and email for a while to recharge his batteries. That’s what sabbatical is all about, after all!

Qusheng Jin is just beginning his second year with us having arrived in December 2005. He’s been very busy with lab construction and there was a period there where it seemed palettes full of equipment were arriving almost daily. The remarkable thing is that he chose to buy much of his equipment used, off of a scientific ebay-like web site. He also taught his first class ever as a university professor last winter, an offering in his specialty, Geobiology. In among it all he’s found time to write several proposals. He has a current project underway using Klamath Lake as a natural laboratory and he hopes to initiate a new project soon on the impact of microorganisms on arsenic geochemistry. Like Ilya Bindeman and his wife, Qusheng and his wife Rose welcomed their first child to the world last year, an adorable baby girl named Niu Niu.

Dana Johnston As promised last year, this will be Dana’s 12th and last year as our department head. It’s been a very fulfilling post but now that he’s secured the record of longest serving (or is that surviving?) head in departmental history, it’s time to pass the torch to someone with new ideas and energy. To ensure that this really happens this time (he’s threatened this before!), Dana will be on sabbatical leave for much of next year, probably spending fall touring the geological wonders of the western U.S., with winter in southern Australia. He is still working on the construction of his new rapid-quench cold-seal laboratory which should be up and running very soon.

Marli Miller took fall term, 2006 as leave without pay so she could work on revamping her class Geology of the National Parks. She moved into newly remodeled space on the first floor of Volcanology about this time last year and has nearly finished settling in. Marli still directs our summer Field Camp and teaches the final half of it, operating out of Dillon, Montana.

Mark Reed remains busy as ever with his research and teaching, activities in the community, and very generous service as my go-to guy when I need help or advice as department head. Mark journeyed to Kamchatka late in September for a planning meeting concerned with drilling a scientific drill hole into an active geothermal system there. Amazingly, it is no longer possible to fly to Kamchatka from the west and the journey to the east is over 20,000 miles and takes three days to complete! Mark is supervising the efforts of two Ph.D. students at present and former Ph.D. student Jim Palandri works with him half time as a post-doc.

Alan Rempel has been with us for two years now and has settled into his newly remodeled space at the north end of the first floor of the Volcanology Building. Alan won the first ever Young Cryosphere Investigator Award from the American Geophysical Union in recognition of his contributions to our understanding of the physics of ice and frozen ground. He has just finished teaching our large Introductory Geology class for the second time and still managed to find time to prepare a couple of research proposals.

Greg Retallack is busy as ever and is commonly seen laying prone on the Cascade Bridge photographing newly collected specimens. He is supervising the Ph.D. research of two students, Lisa Emerson and Christine Metzger; Lisa’s working on the flora of the Cape Blanco region of the Oregon coast and Chistine’s project is in Argentina. Now that they are empty-nesters, Greg and his wife Diane have recently taken up scuba diving and are, as of this writing, trying out their new skills in Cozumel, Mexico.

Josh Roering had a another great year, highlighted in June with the news that he was promoted to associate professor with indefinite tenure (and a raise!). Coming on the heels of last year’s Ersted Award for Distinguished Teaching, he’s had a couple of good years! Josh just graduated his first Ph.D. student, TC Hales, who will soon head to University of North Carolina for a post-doc position. Josh continues with our GEOL 102 class, as well as some more advanced classes in his specialty of tectonic geomorphology. For 2007-2008, he plans a winter term sabbatical leave during which he and his family plan to return to Christchurch, New Zealand, where he was a post-doc before joining our faculty.

David Schmidt had another great year last year, highlighted by his selection to receive a prestigious five year CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation. David also continues working with Ray Weldon on their geodetic study of crustal deformation along the Oregon coast. David has purchased a collection of computers that he has set up in the room next to Doug Toomey’s office on the first floor of Cascade Hall that will be used in his class in Satellite Interferometry next term.

Doug Toomey just finished teaching Oceanography and garnered some of his best teaching evaluations yet. Since taking over this class from Bill Orr several years ago, Doug has put a lot of effort into taking it digital and incorporating in-class exercises. Judging from student response, it looks like’s he’s met with great success. On the research front, Doug and his student Troy Durant are reevaluating some of the most basic assumptions on how mid-ocean ridges work, as their analysis of new data leads them away from the classic models.

Paul Wallace graduated his first Ph.D. student, Julie Roberge, and helped to place her into a post-doctoral position with Professor Hugo Delgado at UNAM in Mexico City. Paul also graduated M.S. student Nathalie Vigoroux who is now in the Ph.D. program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, where she is working on volcanic gas monitoring in the Galapagos Archipelago. New Ph.D. student Dan Ruscitto arrived from the University of Minnesota in the fall to begin working with Paul on a project evaluating how the preeruptive volatile contents of Cascade volcanoes varied with distance from the trench.

And finally, Ray Weldon continues his super-human balancing act, with three simultaneous active research projects, some of our department’s best teaching, and an incredible load of service to his community of researchers interested in neotectonics and earthquake hazards. One huge project that has him preoccupied most of the time is working with a small team of people with different but related specialties on redrawing the seismic hazard map for the entire state of California. Ray is contemplating taking winter and spring next year as sabbatical leave.

Other News

New Research Facilities:


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. As noted in last year’s newsletter, the first grant, with Paul as lead-PI, brought us a new five spectrometer Cameca SX-100 electron microprobe (see below). This state-of-the-art instrument has been in the department a bit over one year now. 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!

Cameca SX-100 Electron Microprobe with Five Spectrometers

The second successful proposal had Kathy Cashman as lead-PI and enabled us to purchase a state-of-the-art FEI Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope which was installed in September, 2006, replacing our former JEOL 6300V SEM. This remarkable instrument is incredibly easy to use, certainly in comparison to the old JEOL. With this instrument, one no longer needs to C- or Au-coat specimens and it can even image wet materials in great contrast to earlier instrument which required very high vacuums and coated specimens. This instrument joins the Zeiss field emission SEM that we are housing for researchers in the Material Science Institute, which can image things as small as about ten atom diameters!!

MAT 253 Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometer (right) & Laser fluorination extraction line left)

Another spectacular new facility appeared over summer 2006 in Ilya Bindeman’s laboratory. Ilya was funded by NSF to purchase a state-of-the-art MAT 253 stable isotope ratio mass spectrometer. This instrument (below) has some custom features of Ilya’s design and interfaces with the laser fluorination extraction line he built during his first year with us. In addition, Ilya just ordered a front end unit that will enable semi-automated analysis of carbonate materials for their O isotopic compositions. This new facility represents our department’s first foray into the fascinating and important field of isotope geochemistry. This facility is housed in what some will remember to be Harve Waff’s former lab space on the first floor of Cascade Hall.

Newest hire Qusheng Jin has also made tremendous progress in building his new geobiology laboratory on the third floor of Cascade Hall. These rooms now contain the likes of controlled atmosphere glove boxes, incubators, refrigerators, deionized water stills, fluorescence microscopes, gas chromatographs etc. all designed to enable Qusheng and students to perform wide ranging studies at the interface between microbiology and geology.

A remaining project, still underway from last year is the new rapid-quench cold-seal laboratory that Dana Johnston is building. This project took on a life of its own once master-machinist Dave Senkovich got involved. The novel feature of the equipment will be its computerized pressure control, accomplished with a stepper motors driving pistons in pressure generators, rather than the more traditional set-up consisting of pumps and valves. Dana expects this equipment to be operational by the end of January 2007 and it promises to foster collaborations between him and Mark, Ilya, Kathy, and Paul.

And finally, last year Doug Toomey took the lead on a proposal aimed at building a geophysics 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. Unfortunately, the first submission of this proposal was unsuccessful but a revised and improved proposal has recently been resubmitted.

With all of the above-described equipment in place, I think it’s fair to say that we are outstandingly well-equipped for the sort of research we do!

The Meierjurgen Faculty Fellowship Program

As I described in last year’s newsletter, the Department was recently the recipient of a substantial bequest whose purpose is to bring a visiting scholar to the Department for a period of at least one full term each year. This fund, with a current value of nearly $500,000 generates about $15,000 in spendable income each year that we are able to offer to sabbatical visitors from other institutions, for example.


We were very excited this past fall term to host Dr. Tracy Vallier as our first ever Meierjurgen Faculty Fellow. Tracy recently retired from the Marine Geology Branch of the U.S. Geological Survey and is an expert in the geology of the Hell’s Canyon region along Oregon’s border with Idaho, as well as the Blue Mountains Province of eastern Oregon. Both Becky Dorsey and Gene Humphreys and their students have research projects underway in these regions so having Tracy in residence was a real bonus. We expect Tracy back for Spring Break when he will lead a one week field trip to the Hell’s Canyon region for about 20 faculty and students. We are currently advertising seeking applicants for next year’s Faculty Fellow position; look under “employment” on our opening web page.

Staples Field Excursion

Staples Costa Rica Field Excursion, 2006

After a break of several years, we ran our second Staples Field Excursion last Spring Break to Costa Rica, land of active volcanoes, outstanding rain forests and what has to be the best coffee in the world.

We were very fortunate to recruit Professor Martin Streck from Portland State University to lead the trip. Martin has run this trip several times before for PSU groups and he very generously agreed to interrupt his sabbatical leave in Zurich, Switzerland, to join our group in Costa Rica and lead the excursion.

Costa Rica Group at Arenal Volcano

In all, 20 people participated, including 17 of our graduate students, Martin, and Paul Wallace and David Scmmidt, from our faculty. All reports are that this trip lived up to, or surpassed, our first such trip to Hawaii, several years ago. The Department’s Staples Fund, set up in honor of the late Professor Lloyd Staples, provided about half the cost of the trip making it much more affordable for all who participated. Below are two group shots from the trip.

Closing Statement

If things go as planned this year, we will have a new hire in paleontology (with the Honors College) to announce next year, together with a host of other news on faculty, student, and departmental activities. But, the time has also come for a change in leadership so I will be stepping down as department head after 12 very fulfilling (and busy) years in this role. During this time we hired about two-thirds of our current faculty, bolstered existing strengths in volcanology, geophysics, and tectonics, developed new programs in geomorphology and geobiology, and reequipped virtually the entire department with new, state-of-the-art instrumentation. Thus, it seems a good time to pass the baton to a new department head whose prose I expect you’ll be reading in this newsletter next year.

Best wishes–Dana Johnston