Oral histories in meteorites and planetary science: XII. Gerald J. Wasserburg
AuthorMarvin, U. B.
MetadataShow full item record
CitationMarvin, U. B. (2004). Oral histories in meteoritics and planetary science: XII. Gerald J. Wasserburg. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, 39(S8), A177-A197.
PublisherThe Meteoritical Society
JournalMeteoritics & Planetary Science
AbstractIn this interview, Gerald J. (Jerry) Wasserburg recounts how he entered the Geology Department at the University of Chicago in 1948 but switched to a major in physics, while maintaining links with geology, particularly geochemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in 1954 with a thesis on the new technique of potassium-argon dating under Harold degrees C. Urey and Mark Inghram. After spending a year at Chicago as a post-doctoral research fellow with Urey, he joined the faculty at the California Institute of Technology where he ultimately advanced to the title of John D. MacArthur Professor of Geology and Geophysics. In the early 1960s, Wasserburg sought to achieve unprecedented sensitivity and precision in isotopic measurements by designing and directing the construction of the first digital output with magnet switching and on-line processing computercontrolled mass spectrometer. He promptly named his unique instrument, Lunatic I, and his laboratory, the Lunatic Asylum. Using that instrument and later ones, Wasserburg and his research group identified specific nucleosynthetic processes that produced isotopic anomalies in inclusions found in meteorites; investigated the origin and evolution of planetary bodies from the solar nebula; dated the oldest components in meteorites and in terrestrial and lunar rocks; and studied the oxygen in presolar grains and the astrophysical models of AGB stars. In addition to his labors in science, he served on policy-making committees and worked with other members to seek the highest standards for receiving and processing lunar samples and other planetary materials, and to forestall the elimination of the final three Apollo missions. Wasserburg has received many honors, including several honorary doctorates from universities at home and abroad, and the prestigious Crafoord Prize bestowed on him in 1986 by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. In 1975, the Meteoritical Society awarded him its Leonard Medal and in 1987-1988, he served as President of the Society.