My Top Ten Scientists
SF author and marine environmental geochemist
Ian Irvine cites the scientists and engineers born
in the 20th Century who have influenced him
After originally studying geology, I spent my Honours year researching climate changes that had occurred over the last few million years. This involved a detailed study of microfossils in sediment cores from the bottom of the Tasman Sea. I maintain a keen interest in palaeoclimatology, and Iíve also written SF eco-thrillers set in a future undergoing catastrophic climate change.
From a young age Iíve been passionately concerned about the environment and its protection. In my doctorate in marine science, I dived all over Sydney Harbour collecting sediment cores, then spent years analysing them for heavy metals and other contaminants. I still work in this field nearly forty years later. I suppose Iíd be classified as an environmental geochemist.
My choices, as to the scientists that have influenced me, reflect these passions.
T. W. Edgeworth-David
(Not born in the 20th century, but an inspiration to me and so I include him as an eleventh scientist.) A towering figure in Australian geology, as well as a great explorer (aged 50, he was the first to reach the South Magnetic Pole) and subsequently a key technical advisor on the Western Front in the First World War. His legacy was everywhere in the Geology Department at Sydney Uni when I studied there.
Geologist and one of the first and most important planetary scientists. Iím fascinated by the planets, and how different every one of them is. I wish I was a planetary geologist.
Marine biologist whose many books and articles have had a massive influence on our understanding of the environment and how easily it can be damaged. I still remember reading Silent Spring fifty years ago.
The Nobel-winning chemist who developed the method for radiocarbon dating. It can be used to date samples up to 50,000 years in age, and profoundly influenced many sciences including archaeology, anthropology, history and pre-history, and recent geology.
Not just because of his mighty contributions in many scientific disciplines, but also because of his fruitful collaboration with MC Escher in the 1950s Ė the nexus between science and art has always been of vital importance to me. Also, having an amateurís passion for cosmology, every so often I dip into Penroseís mighty tome, The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, and come away chastened by my ignorance, yet enlightened.
David Attenborough FIBiol
Yes, everyone seems to mention Sir David, but given that heís the public figure I admire most in all the world, I couldnít leave him out. He matters to me not just because of his broadcasts that have brought the natural world, and worlds of the distant past, so vividly to life, but also because of his tireless campaign for the environment that provides everything to us, and without which we are nothing.
An environmental chemist working on contaminants in the aquatic environment, he has been unstinting in his scientific generosity over the forty years Iíve worked in this field.
Geologist and expert on ice sheets, and one of the key scientists to warn about climate change. His papers on abrupt climate change, which demonstrated that major climate events in the past have occurred far more rapidly than was believed, over periods as short as years or decades, are scary. Also, cores through ice sheets have given us our best and longest sets of data about palaeoclimates and recent geological history.
A vulcanologist and expert on geological and climate hazards who wrote the illuminating tome, A Guide to the End of the World: Everything you Never Wanted to Know. Enough said.
Xavier le Pichon
Many scientists were involved in the development of the theory of plate tectonics that revolutionised our understanding of geology in the mid-to-late 1960s. In 1968 Le Pichon published a complete plate tectonic model that pulled it all together. I began my geology degree in 1970 and it was a very exciting time as all the old theories were rewritten.
You wonít find anything about Rolf online but he was a mentor and the most important influence on my scientific career. A meticulous chemist who ran the chem lab in the Geology Department at the University of Sydney during the years 1975-1979 when I was running amok with my heavily contaminated sediment samples from the bottom of Sydney Harbour. Rolf taught me almost everything I know about analytical chemistry and the vital importance of quality control and quality assurance Ė being able to prove that the data is fit for purpose. And he even patiently (mostly) put up with a brash young postgrad brewing coffee in his meticulously clean lab glassware.
Ian Irvine is an Australian marine scientist, an expert in the investigation and management of contaminated sediments. He has also written 34 novels, including fantasy, SF eco-thrillers, and books for children and Young Adult readers. He is best known for his 'Three Worlds' epic fantasy sequence, which begins with The View from the Mirror quartet (1998-1999) and runs to 13 novels and an anthology to date, with two more books in progress. Website: www.ian-irvine.com.
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