William S. Fyfe Geochemistry and Geochronology

Father of modern geochemistry and global change

The Story

Fyfe was the first student from his one-room school to attend university. He received his BSc in 1948 from Otago University, New Zealand, followed by his MSc (1949) and PhD (1952). Early in his career, he made important contributions to the knowledge of isomorphism, studying the behaviour of rock-forming minerals under high temperature and stress. His investigation of metamorphism—the chemical and physical transformation of rocks under pressure and stress at the base of mountain systems—revolutionized the field of metamorphic petrology. While Dean of Science at UWO (1986-90), he established the Interface Science Research Centre. Fyfe’s Canadian research effort focused on the role of fluids and tectonics in creating deposits of precious metals, particularly gold. He did research on a range of biosphere-geosphere interactions, including the role of micro-organisms in concentrating metals and the role of geothermal systems in creating ocean nutrients. Concerned with the environmental implications of human energy consumption, Fyfe conducted research into problems associated with burning coal. His knowledge of the geology of ancient rocks and the movement of fluids in the Earth’s crust were key to research into the possibility of safe geological disposal of high-level nuclear waste. He was also involved in soil erosion studies and prevention. He led the establishment of the Global Change program, a comprehensive international investigation of Earth’s life-support systems.

Sources: Canadian Who’s Who 1993; NSERC; photo, Dept of Earth Sciences, UWO

The Person

June 4, 1927
Ashburn, New Zealand
Geochemist; Professor Emeritus, Department of Geology
University of Western Ontario
  • Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, NSERC, 1991
  • Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America, 1995
Last Updated
September 16, 2001

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