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Department Head’s Letter, Fall 2004

Well, here it is, the beginning of Fall term, 2004 and I am once again wondering where the summer months have gone. As always (it seems) we had an incredibly busy year last year and I want to take this opportunity to update you on personnel and activities in the department. I wondered last year if someone else would be writing this year’s newsletter but it turns out that the Department asked me to stay on for a fourth term as Department Head and I, wisely or not (!), agreed to do it. So, here we go again…..

Comings and Goings


I couldn’t be more pleased to announce the very successful outcome of both of the faculty searches we ran last year. For the geochemistry position, we were fortunate to attract Dr. Ilya Bindeman, a very accomplished stable isotope geochemist with interests primarily in volcanology and petrology but also with a genuine desire to broaden into other areas such as climate change and anthropology. Ilya is presently on the research staff at Caltech, where he is working in close collaboration with Professor John Eiler. Prior to Caltech, he was a post-doc with Professor John Valley at University of Wisconsin for several years, after receiving his Ph.D. from University of Chicago where he worked primarily with Professor Fred Anderson. Ilya will occupy the first floor space in Cascade Hall formerly occupied by Harve Waff (who has relocated to the Volcanology Building) and he was busy during the spring and summer preparing proposals aimed at raising funding to equip his state-of-the-art laser fluorination stable isotope laboratory. Many of us look forward to the establishment of this new laboratory in the department. Ilya and his wife Elena and son Philip will relocate to Eugene around Christmas time and he will take up his official duties in the department beginning with winter term, when he is scheduled to teach a class in Isotope Geochemistry.

We were also very pleased with the outcome of our search in the area of continuum mechanics which will bring Dr. Alan Rempel to the department. Alan hails from the Whistler area a bit north of Vancouver, British Columbia and he holds a M.S. in geophysics from U.B.C. He then crossed the big pond and received his Ph.D. in applied mathematics from Cambridge University. Since then Alan has held postdoctoral appointments at University of Washington and Yale University. At present, he is an instructor at Harvard University, a split position with teaching duties in the Department of Applied Mathematics, and research duties in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, where he is working primarily with Professor Jim Rice. Like Ilya, Alan has delayed his arrival date to the start of winter term. He is scheduled to teach a class in Environmental Geomechanics during spring term. With Alan’s hire, our group in quantitiative, physical geosciences (Humphreys, Toomey, Weldon, Roering, Schmidt, and Rempel) has achieved critical mass and we now look forward to some thoughtful curriculum development, not to mention continued exciting research.

I am also pleased to announce the recent hire of Vicki Arbeiter who has just taken over for long-time office manager Wanda Weber who retired at the end of September (more on Wanda below). We were pleased to see that our office manager position was highly coveted as evidenced by the 53 applications we received. Our search committee (Dorsey, Reed, Johnston) interviewed five outstanding candidates and decided in the end that Vicki fit our needs and desires best. Vicki comes to us with 9 years experience as Instructional Coordinator at Yavapai College in Arizona, a position in which she performed virtually every duty that will be required of her here, but in a substantially larger program. Prior to that she was Registration Supervisor for 6 years, also at Yavapai College. She has long loved Oregon, having vacationed here for many years, and relocated here in June 2004 to take up a position in another UO unit. It was our great good fortune that she chose to apply for our position and we look forward to having Vicki managing our office for many years to come.


We were all saddened by the death of our long-time faculty colleague and friend Professor Gordon Goles on November 9, 2003. Any of you who had the good fortune to interact with Gordon will realize what a unique and wonderful person our science, and our greater community has lost. Gordon originally came to the department in 1967 when he joined Professors Alex McBirney and Dan Weill in the department’s nascent Center for Volcanology of the time. He established an instrumental neutron activation analysis laboratory in the Volcanology building that produced excellent data forming the basis of countless M.S. and Ph.D. theses. Gordon had been battling cancer for several years prior to his death but was still analyzing rocks, examining thin sections, and writing scientific papers up to the very end. Those of us who knew Gordon count ourselves as lucky and we all miss him dearly.

We were also surprised when our new paleontologist of just two years, Professor Ryosuke Motani, announced last May his intentions to leave the UO and take up a position at UC-Davis. He relocated over the summer and brought with him the three graduate students who had begun doing research with him here. While we regret that Ryosuke left, we see it as yet another hiring opportunity and a chance to shape the future of the department. We are presently running much the same advertisement that brought us Ryosuke two years ago which is quite broad, encompassing everything from paleontology to the broad field of biogeoscience. We expect we’ll be interviewing during winter term and I hope to be able to announce yet another top-notch hire in next year’s newsletter.

In another devastating loss, alluded to above, Office Manager Wanda Weber followed through on her and her husband Jim’s long term threat to retire. Wanda served the department for seven years with good cheer and a level of professionalism that is unsurpassed. We can’t say that this comes as a surprise since Wanda made clear her intentions when she first joined the department but we will miss her and the wonderful atmosphere she created in the department nonetheless. She and Jim plan to relocate to the Tampa Bay area of Florida from October to May, returning to the Eugene area for the summer months. It’s been a great seven years but as they say, “all good things must come to an end”! We wish Wanda all the best in retirement and hope she’ll check in with us each spring when she returns to the Eugene area.

Hiring Plans

As I write, applications are coming in for our opening in paleontology/biogeoscience. Assuming we succeed with this search, our faculty will finally be back to full strength after what seems like a decade of pretty constant hiring. Indeed, I count 7 faculty hires during my 9 years as department head, nearly half of the department! We’ve advertised broadly and hope to attract applicants spanning the range from vertebrate paleontologists to geomicrobiologists. Greg Retallack will chair this search committee which will also include Becky Dorsey and Mark Reed. We plan to interview about mid-winter quarter and hope to have an offer out by the end of winter quarter. Our ad for this position is posted under “Employment” elsewhere on this web page.

Faculty Activities

Ilya Bindeman is busily building equipment and preparing lecture notes while still on the staff at Caltech, in anticipation of his arrival in December as the newest member of our geochemistry faculty. As mentioned above, Ilya is a stable isotope geochemist with principle research interests in the areas of volcanology and igneous petrology. He has two large NSF proposals pending, one seeking funds to enable him to build a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer lab and the other to fund some fascinating sounding research in Kamchatka, in his native Russia. We look forward to Ilya’s arrival.

Kathy Cashman is off on a very well-deserved, full year sabbatical leave which she will spend primarily based in Pisa, Italy, but with significant time also spent in Bristol, U.K. and other locales around the world, attending meetings and doing collaborative field work. Kathy has had an unbelievably hectic schedule in recent years with service as president of the VGP section of the American Geophysical Union, a panel member for the Petrology & Geochemistry Program at the NSF, and a member of the Faculty Personnel� Committee on campus, not to mention running one of our larger research groups and teaching a full schedule. She’s been looking forward to this break for several years now and all reports indicate that she is greatly enjoying her year free of these obligations. Kathy is also beginning her second year of a three year honorary appointment as a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor. She gave an excellent and well attended public lecture in this capacity last winter entitled, appropriately, “Some Like It Hot”.

Becky Dorsey is just back from a sabbatical leave herself. She spent much of the fall and winter months last year pursuing field-based research in the Salton Trough area of southern California before heading to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand where she spent our spring term (their fall). One of her goals was to get some of her recent research written up and, word has it, she returned with several manuscripts near completion. From my point of view as department head, it’s good to have Becky and her characteristic energy and enthusiasm back. After a welcome break, she has resumed her former position as chair of our curriculum committee.

Gene Humphreys and his students continue their research in the western U.S. aimed at unraveling the mantle’s role in the tectonic evolution of the region and in imaging the plume (or not!) beneath, and responsible for, Yellowstone and the Snake River Plain. You may recall that I announced in last year’s newsletter that Gene had been elected to fellowship in the American Geophysical Union. Well, the ceremony at which he was officially inducted was held in San Francisco last December (in conjunction with the AGU meeting) and it is rumored that Gene was spotted in a tuxedo. I have not yet been able to confirm this, though.

Dana Johnston agreed to take on a fourth term as department head and is thus just now beginning his tenth year in this role. A recent review of old department newsletters (formerly called the “Dips-n-Strikes”) revealed that Dana will soon surpass the record set by the late Lloyd Staples who most people recall having been department head “forever”. Dana’s joint project with Anita Grunder from OSU, involving UO graduate student Celeste Mercer continues. In addition, he submitted an equipment proposal in July aimed at getting some rapid-quench cold-seal equipment. This gear will enable Dana to better collaborate with colleagues Kathy Cashman, Paul Wallace, Mark Reed, and Ilya Bindeman, by providing the capability to work in the < 2 kbar range, exactly that of greatest interest in volcanology and ore deposits studies.

Marli Miller had an eventful year last year highlighted by her notification in May that her case for promotion to Senior Instructor with indefinite tenure was approved by the Provost. Congratulations Marli!! She also completed revising her book on Death Valley Geology for its second edition. She continues to teach Geology of National Parks in the fall, Structural Geology in the spring, and field camp in the summer.

Mark Reed remains busy as ever with his research, his activities in the community, and his very generous service as my go-to guy when I need help or advice as department head. Mark and colleague John Dilles at OSU are winding down their multi-year study of the giant porphyry Cu (and other metals) deposit in Butte, Montana. Much of this work was just presented in multiple keynote addresses at the recent Penrose Conference held in Yellowstone Park and Butte Montana. Mark is also a member of a scientific planning committee working on siting a scientific drill hole on Iceland that they hope will penetrate an active geothermal system deep enough to encounter temperatures in the 500oC range .

Alan Rempel, our second new hire last year, is finishing up his appointment as an instructor/researcher at Harvard University. Alan will relocate to Eugene around Christmas time and will take up his duties in the department beginning with winter term, 2005. Alan managed to get a research proposal submitted to the NSF last spring so, with any luck, he’ll have a funded project to get going on as soon as he arrives. We greatly look forward to welcoming Alan and adding his considerable skill in the area of applied mathematics to our geophysics program. He will offer a class in Environmental Geomechanics during spring term.

Greg Retallack led an expedition to Antarctica last Fall involving two UO students and a postdoc, together with researchers from a number of other institutions. Word has it that it was highly successful and we expect a flood of papers resulting from this field work to begin appearing at Greg’s characteristic rapid pace. Greg will serve as the chair of our search committee that will screen applicants for our opening in biogeoscience/paleontology this year.

Josh Roering’s big news (together with his wife Michele, of course) was the arrival of their second child, a healthy and happy girl known as Stella. Together with Stella’s brother Oscar, Josh and Michele have their hands full! Josh is running a vibrant research group with three Ph.D. students and one M.S. student and has projects underway in New Zealand and various locales in the western U.S. After three years preparing lectures for new classes, Josh is finally looking forward to a year of teaching classes that are already largely put together. His new class in Data Analysis, offered last spring, was very popular.

Norman Savage continues teaching one-third time for the department and is otherwise fully engaged in research and travel with his wife Barbara. He has a new project underway in Thailand where he is also helping local geologists set up a laboratory for processing and analyzing conodonts. He has just left on a trip to China to attend a special conference honoring his colleague from OSU, Art Boucout, on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

David Schmidt is just beginning his second year in the department. He was busy last year getting his computer systems set up and preparing lectures for the two classes he taught, GEOL 202, in our introductory sequence for majors, and a more advanced class in geodesy, his field of specialization. This fall, David will be offering another new class, this one in fault mechanics. David had his first NSF proposal funded last year and he has now taken on a graduate student to work with him. We are also grateful to David for serving as our representative to the library during these dreary days of journal cuts.

Doug Toomey is spending Fall term as an instructor in a Research Apprenticeship Class held at Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands to our north. This unusual “class” brings together four active researchers of which Doug is one, and 8 apprentices who are senior undergraduate students or recently-graduated students who are contemplating attending graduate school. The goal is to introduce these students to the seismic deformation and its relation to volcanic, hydrothermal, and biological activity along the Juan de Fuca Ridge. Doug participated in a cruise this past summer during which seismological data were recovered that form the basis for this unique educational opportunity. Paul Wallace had a great year with continued success in teaching GEOL 201, the first term of our introductory sequence for majors and a great job with the General Petrology class he has now taken over from Allan Kays. Paul was also the lead-PI on a successful proposal to the NSF to replace our aging Cameca SX-50 electron microprobe. Together with matching funds from the UO, this amounted to nearly $800K in funding. Kathy Cashman, Mark Reed, and Dana Johnston, as well as Dave Johnson from Chemistry, were co-PIs. Paul also received new NSF funding for continued studies with his former post-doc supervisor, Fred Anderson, on the Bishop Tuff. Paul’s group continues to grow and he is now supervising one M.S. student and two Ph.D. students. Paul will be considered for promotion to associate professor with indefinite tenure during the coming year.

Ray Weldon continues work in central Asia, southern California and along the western margin of Oregon. In central Asia Ray has been teaching an international field camp for several years with participants from the U.S., Europe, and Asia. His work in southern California continues to focus on the periodicity of motions on the San Andreas fault and in Oregon, his focus is on using geodetics to monitor uplift along the coast in response to the locked subduction zone beneath us.

And finally, Harve Waff spent part of the summer sorting through several decades of accumulated “stuff” in advance of relocating to a new office on the second floor of the Volcanology Building. This move was necessary to make space for Ilya Bindeman’s new stable isotope lab in Cascade Hall. Harve continues to teach part time for us as part of the phased retirement program.

Staff Activities

We welcome Vicki Arbeiter who just took over the reins as Office Manager from Wanda Weber who retired at the end of September. She’ll be working with Pat Kallunki who has been with us for over ten years now and Dave Stemple who has been with us for four years. Pat continues to do a great job in the front office representing us very professionally to the public, serving as graduate secretary for the complex graduate admissions process, and generally keeping the office well-tuned. Accountant Dave Stemple seems to have settled in with us for the long haul, having declined an invitation to apply for attractive employment opportunity elsewhere on campus to remain with us. He does a great job keeping track of our many accounts and keeps the faculty in line on financial matters. He’s also become a first class rock mover! And, as always, he keeps us up-to-date on all matters concerning sports.

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. We’re thinking of returning to the Big Island of Hawaii this coming year, where we went on the last such excursion in 2001; all of our graduate students are new since then, as are several of our faculty. If so, we’ll be sure to include digital photos of the trip in next year’s newsletter. Best wishes–Dana Johnston

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