Clark Burchfiel retires.
Clark Burchfiel’s retirement may end up looking a lot like his working life. Just in the months leading up to his retirement, the structural geologist was in China and Peru—indistinguishable in pace from more than five decades exploring the geology of the Western United States, Eastern Europe, Middle East, Scandinavia, South America, and China, although he has most recently focused on the geological history and evolution of the Tibetan plateau. In that light, it is easy to understand why it is hard for him to imagine ending his field geological research, “for there is much to see on the other side of the mountain,” said Burchfiel.
“I know of no earth scientist who has walked and climbed across more of the Earth, measured its outcrops, mapped its structures, sited GPS stations to measure its strains and then sat down to write up his discoveries,” said Gregory A. Davis, Professor Emeritus of Earth Sciences at the University of Southern California, upon presenting his longtime friend the Geological Society of America’s 2009 Penrose medal.
“Clark’s a giant in the field,” said colleague Timothy Grove, EAPS Associate Department Head. “Clark sort of defined the geological fieldwork aspect of our department, and has been very, very active in teaching graduates and undergraduates, who’ve gone on to distinguished positions at the best universities in the United States and even abroad, places such as China.”
Burchfiel earned his PhD in 1961 at Yale University and took his first academic appointment in the geology department at Rice University. He joined the MIT faculty in 1976 and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1985. Over his career, he has written some 200 papers and mentored more than 50 graduate students.
That may be the only thing that changes with his retirement. “I have often said that the department at MIT is a place I could never leave because of the stimulating multidisciplinary research and cooperation that is possible,” he said upon receiving the Penrose, “and in a very friendly environment.”
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