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  • Don L. Anderson
12/08/1998 08:00:00

Anderson wins National Medal of Science

PASADENA-Don L. Anderson, a professor of geophysics at the California Institute of Technology, has been named a 1998 recipient of the National Medal of Science. The announcement was made at 2:45 p.m. EST today (December 8, 1998) at the White House by President Clinton.

Anderson, who holds the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professorship at Caltech, is one of nine Americans to be awarded the country's highest scientific honor. In naming this year's recipients, Clinton cited the scientists for "their lifetime of passion, perseverance and persistence to bring about new knowledge that extends the limits of their fields and drives our nation forward into a new century."

Anderson was born in 1933 in Maryland and received his doctorate in geophysics from Caltech in 1962. He has been a leading figure in "deep Earth" research since the 1960s. He was director of the Seismological Laboratory at Caltech from 1967 to 1989.

In 1989 he published his "Theory of the Earth," a remarkable synthesis of his broad and provocative research and a guide for geo-researchers from different fields for future exploration of the dynamics of the deep parts of Earth.

Among Anderson's research interests are the changes arising from the pressure deep down in Earth's mantle. Sudden changes in the rock types at depths of 400 kilometers and 660 kilometers are explained by conversions undergone by the rock types, so that they contain minerals entirely unknown at Earth's surface. His team's research has shown that changes in composition of the mantle may explain the occurrence of tensions in Earth's crust that can lead to earthquakes.

His team has also used seismic data to study convection currents in the mantle, important for understanding continental drift and volcanism. Recently, Anderson has also used geochemical and chemical-isotope methods not only for mapping Earth's development, but also for understanding the development of the moon and the planets Mars and Venus.

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 to be bestowed annually by the President of the United States. The first Medal of Science was awarded by John F. Kennedy in 1962 to Caltech's Theodore von Kármán, a pioneer of aerospace engineering.

To date, 362 American scientists have been awarded the Medal of Science. Of these, 44 have been Caltech professors and alumni.