100 years of studying the earth

Thursday 21 August 2003

In the last 100 years, the study of Geology at the University of St Andrews has seen scientists study moon rocks from the Apollo missions, sail the frozen waters of the Arctic and befriend Eskimos in Greenland.

This weekend (22-25 August 2003) will see the study of Geology – the scientific study of the Earth – at St Andrews celebrate its centenary and geologists (graduates and former staff) from all over the World will be reunited.

The area of Geology is of particular significance in Scotland since it contains the most studied and perhaps the most controversial rocks in the World. The secrets of the history of Earth are locked within them and rocks of the Outer Hebrides are the oldest rocks in the British Isles at 2,700 million years old.

It was eminent geologist Archibald Geikie who first suggested that the University should take advantage of the unrivalled teaching potential of the rock exposures available on its doorstep after he carried out a detailed survey of East Fife in 1901.

While Geikie was surveying Fife for the Geological Survey, he commented that, “If I were asked to select a region in the British Isles where geology could best be practically taught by constant appeals to evidence in the field, I would with little hesitation recommend the East of Fife as peculiarly adapted for such a purpose.”

Geology was already being taught sporadically at the University in the mid-nineteenth century under the umbrella of Natural History and over these years played host to many eminent men who contributed to the science of geology, both within and outside the University: David Brewster, James Forbes, Matthew Heddle, Robert Chambers, Charles Lapworth and Henry Nicholson. However, it was not until 1903 that Dr Thomas Jehu was appointed the University’s first Lecturer in Geology on a salary of £300 per annum.

Initially Geology was taught as part of a general science degree, but in 1920 a full Honours degree was established. In 1938 Harald Drever became a regular in the frozen waters of the Arctic where he learned how to handle a kayak and made friends with the Eskimos during his research into rocks in Greenland. The Department expanded considerably in the 1960s and 1970s and it was during this period that Professors Harald Drever and Bob Johnston were propelled into the spotlight of the media when they were chosen by NASA to investigate moon rock brought back from the Apollo missions.

The University’s Geological Collection (founded in 1849 and the largest collection in the University) include tens of thousands of fossils, rocks and minerals from across the globe, some of which were amassed by Matthew Forster Heddle, a former Professor of Chemistry at St Andrews and arguably the most famous Scottish mineralologist of all time.

Geology has since metamorphosed into Geoscience and current research includes comparisons between ancient and modern glaciations, and studies of corals and ocean sediments to understand past climates.

In recent years, geoscientists from St Andrews have found evidence against the ‘snowball theory’ – the controversial theory that the Earth was completely frozen for periods of many millions of years. Another important discovery found that life appeared on Earth more than a billion years ago, far earlier than previously thought. Further research into the rocks of the Highlands aims to solve the ancient geological jigsaw puzzle of where Scotland originated from 3 billion years ago.

The Centenary of Geology events have been organised by alumnus and staff member Richard Batchelor. To mark this centenary 150 geology graduates, staff and guests will attend a reunion this weekend, which will comprise field trips, slide shows, displays, a special dinner and a ceilidh. To complement the Centenary celebrations an extra-mural group called “geoHeritage Fife” has been set up by Richard Batchelor to promote the local geological heritage. To date the 30-strong group has created the Geological Wall in St Andrews, incorporating examples of Fife’s rock types, and has established a Jurassic Garden in Kinburn Park which includes primitive Ginkgo and Monkey Puzzle trees.

Weblinks: http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/gg/html/staghp.html




Issued by Beattie Media On behalf of the University of St Andrews Contact Gayle Cook on 01334 467227, mobile 07900 050 103, or email [email protected] Ref: Geology Centenary 220803 View the latest University news at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk

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