09/01/1995 07:00:00

Geologist Wyllie Elected President of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics

PASADENA—Peter Wyllie, Professor of Geology at Caltech, was elected president of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics in July at the IUGG's XXI General Assembly in Boulder, Colorado.

Wyllie, who was vice president of the IUGG from 1991 to 1995, will serve a four-year term as president, from 1995 to 1999. He is the first American to head the IUGG since 1967.

The IUGG is made up of seven international scientific associations and is dedicated to the scientific study of the earth and the application of knowledge gained to the needs of society. The IUGG convenes a general assembly every four years, and last met in the United States in 1963, at Berkeley, California.

As president of the IUGG, Wyllie will explore two possible areas of future activity: the coordination of global monitoring, and the impact that "megacities"—sprawling metropolitan areas—have on the earth. Many international groups recognize the need for an integrated global monitoring system to gather information about climate, global change, and environmental issues, and the IUGG is an obvious organization to coordinate such an effort. Many problems also surround the growth of megacities, and IUGG member associations have scientific information that could be very useful in solving them. The IUGG is in a good position to gather, coordinate, and apply this information to these problems if practical policies can be established.

Wyllie is an internationally known authority on the formation of igneous rocks—those created when molten material solidifies. He has been particularly involved with the origin of andesites (volcanoes that tend to explode as Mount St. Helens did in 1980); with granites that form the core of mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada; with kimberlites, which transport diamonds to the earth's surface; and with carbonatites, which are useful for their deposits of ore rich in phosphates for fertilizers, niobium for alloys, and rare-earth elements for superconductors.

Before launching his scientific career, Wyllie was the 1949 Royal Air Force, Scotland, heavyweight boxing champion. He attended college at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he received a BSc in physics and geology in 1952, and then spent two years as a geologist with the British North Greenland Expedition. He received the Polar Medal from Queen Elizabeth in 1954 for his role in the expedition, and returned to the University of St. Andrews, where in 1955 he earned a BSc with first class honors in geology, and his PhD, also in geology, in 1958.

Wyllie taught at the University of St. Andrews, Penn State, and Leeds University, England, before joining the University of Chicago faculty in 1965. He came to Caltech in 1983 as a professor of geology and to serve as the chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, a post he held until 1987.

Wyllie was elected a Foreign Associate of the United States' National Academy of Sciences in 1981, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982, a Fellow of the Royal Society (London) in 1984, a Foreign Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences in 1988, a Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy in 1991 and of the National Academy of Sciences, India, in 1992. He received the Mineralogical Society of America Award in 1965 for research done before 35 years of age, the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London in 1982, and the highest honor of the German Mineralogical Society—the Abraham-Gottlob-Werner Medaille—in 1987.

He has written hundreds of scientific articles and three books, including two basic textbooks. Wyllie also served as the chair of the committee convened by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to produce the first national disciplinary review of the earth sciences, a 346-page volume titled Solid-Earth Sciences and Society, published in 1993. The volume recommends priorities for future research and discusses the scientific challenges facing our society.

The IUGG was founded in 1919 and is made up of seven semi-autonomous International Associations: Geodesy; Seismology and Physics of the Earth's Interior; Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior; Geomagnetism and Aeronomy; Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences; Hydrological Sciences; and Physical Sciences of the Oceans. With more than 83 member nations, the IUGG is one of the largest unions within the International Council of Scientific Unions.

Written by John Avery