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08/31/2004 07:00:00

Farley Named Chair of Geological and Planetary Sciences

PASADENA, Calif. — Probably the only experience the nonscientist has had with the so-called noble gases is the helium found in balloons. But Ken Farley, a geochemist at the California Institute of Technology, has roamed the earth looking for trace amounts of these gases--argon, helium, krypton, neon, xenon, and sometimes radon--that provide clues to the evolution of the earth's interior and atmosphere.

For the immediate future, though, Farley may be staying a bit closer to his Caltech home as he now takes on an additional role as the new chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences.

Of Farley, Caltech Provost Paul Jennings said that he and President David Baltimore "feel very fortunate that a colleague of Ken's caliber has agreed to assume this administrative responsibility. He is highly respected by his colleagues for his integrity and conviction, his broad scientific interests, and his understanding of the issues within the division. We look forward to working with him as he takes on the duties of division chair."

Farley joined the Caltech faculty as an assistant professor of geochemistry in 1993, and was appointed professor in 1998. In 2003 he was named the W. M. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry. As a scientist, he is interested in the noble gases because they do not form chemical bonds with other elements. As a result, their concentrations in marine sediments, rocks, minerals, and seawater preserve information on the nature of geochemical processes and the timescales over which these processes have operated. To conduct his research, Farley and his students have traveled afar, from California's Sierra Nevada to Robinson Crusoe Island off Chile.

George Rossman, the professor of mineralogy and divisional academic officer who led the search committee for the position, calls Farley "a young, dynamic scientist."

"We all feel Ken has strength of conviction and is willing to support positions of principle rather than those of convenience. He is able to reach decisions quickly after learning the facts.

"Many find him a scientific colleague who takes an interest in their work, collaborates freely on problems of mutual interest, and who is available for scientific discussion."

In a note to the division Jennings also thanked Ed Stolper for a decade of excellent and dedicated service as division chair, and more recently as acting provost. "The Institute and the Division have profited greatly from his vision and dedication," says Jennings. Stolper will return to full-time teaching and research.