September 2018 Newsletter
A Month of Losses
In these introductions, I normally summarize our excitement over the new discoveries being made on campus and the many opportunities we have to engage more broadly in the international scientific community. This month, however, the focus is on the loss of three colleagues whose contributions over their decades of employment played major roles in fostering the work environment and the level of scientific achievement that we so treasure at DTM.
Erik came to DTM as a Staff Scientist in 1994 after completing his PhD in the joint MIT – Woods Hole program under the mentorship of two DTM alumni, Stan Hart and Nobu Shimizu. Erik's thesis consisted of two different, but related, research skills, a theoretical investigation of the fluid dynamics of mantle plumes and their propensity to entrain and mix with the material they rise through, in combination with geochemical studies of a number of oceanic volcanic hotspots believed to be the surface expression of deep mantle plumes. Erik continued this research focus at DTM. Among many other contributions on the subject, he produced a landmark paper in Nature that outlined the importance of recycled crustal materials in the source of some Hawaiian volcanism, providing the long-sought evidence that connected the sinking of Earth's crustal plates with the huge circulation system of Earth's interior. On arriving at DTM, Erik established the DTM ion probe facility, at that time one of only a couple such facilities in the world. Erik's skills in tweaking instruments to peak performance were well displayed by his achievements with the ion probe, but also in his other passion, music, where he built a series of innovative custom electric guitars. Erik's most recent focus with the ion probe was in pushing the detection limit for volatile elements, particularly hydrogen and carbon, so they could be measured at natural abundance levels in various types of volcanic rocks. Working with colleague Alberto Saal, Erik built the case that lunar magmas contained non-trivial amounts of water, something that was heresy in the time of a "bone-dry" Moon, but now is driving new investigations of the processes by which volatiles are retained during the energetic steps of planet formation. His expertise and interest in volatile elements made him the obvious choice to be leader of the Deep Carbon Observatory's "Reservoirs and Fluxes" community of researchers where his role, and the significance of his loss are beautifully described in the tribute page put together by DCO. Erik collaborated widely and served as mentor of a large number of early career scientists through which his contribution will live on.
DTM Emeritus Staff Scientist John Graham came to DTM in 1985 from a position at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. John was hired by then Director George Wetherill to begin a transition in DTM astronomy from an extragalactic to a stellar/planetary focus. His work focused on observations of young stars and the star formation process, something that fit in well with the developing group at DTM studying the earliest steps of formation of planetary systems. John was a quiet man, but one with keen, and sometimes biting, observations, like the time he expressed to me the observation that talent and ego often are anti-correlated. After his retirement in 2002, John remained a routine visitor to campus, but also took on broader roles within the astronomical community including as a Program Director at NSF and as Secretary of the American Astronomical Society, where he ran the AAS office out of a ground floor room in the Abelson Building. John played a mean game of tennis and was a huge fan of classical music. He also was a generous supporter of underprivileged students around the world, both in his home country of Australia and in Africa.
Picture of John Graham at The University of Michigan/Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory Curtis Schmidt telescope via National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Full image: https://www.noao.edu/image_gallery/html/im0131.html
Mike started work as an instrument maker at DTM in 1958 and retired as a design engineer and campus building manager in 1998. In the smaller, simpler, times prior to the campus renovation that occurred with the relocation of the Geophysical Lab to BBR, Mike was the go-to man to get something done on campus, whether that something was fixing the lab air conditioning or welding a mass spectrometer part that absolutely could not leak under high vacuum. He managed a diverse group of people from the grounds staff to the technical shops with efficiency and with strong and never wavering support for the needs of his group. Mike was a master of the "I can build it" approach to science where no performance requirement of an instrument was beyond at least an attempt to make it work. Mike mentored some key people who still serve our campus well, including Facilities Manager Gary Bors and Building Engineer Bill Key. The focus of this newsletter often is on the achievements of the scientific staff or postdocs, but few of their achievements would be possible without the background technical support of people like Mike Seemann.
I. Selwyn Sacks, Shigeji Suyehiro, and Michael Seemann assembling instruments for three borehole strainmeters to be installed at Matsushiro, Japan, 1971. Credit: DTM.
I've often referred to DTM as a member of the Carnegie family. That analogy is particularly applicable now because the passing of Erik, John, and Mike leave a similar sense of loss as would the passing of a family member. The sadness is likely to linger, but I hope that it will eventually be replaced by the sense of joy and good memories of the time that we had to spend with these three talented colleagues, and our recognition of their major contribution to making the department a place where we are proud to work.
Richard Carlson, Director, DTM
Carnegie Institution for Science