Dennis Kent Receives 2009 William Gilbert Award

Dennis Kent received the William Gilbert Award at the 2009 AGU Fall Meeting, held 14–18 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes outstanding and unselfish work in magnetism of Earth materials and of the Earth and planets.


kent_dennisIt is an honor to introduce Dennis Kent, this year’s William Gilbert Award winner. Over the more than 35 years since his first publication, Dennis has poked around in most corners of the science that we do in this section. And when Dennis pokes around, he frequently finds some new pearl of wisdom. He has given us hundreds of treasures in the form of published papers. Early on, he developed a passion for the magnetization of mud. Really, mud. Since then he has studied rock, glass, dust, ice, and smoke (and the last three were all in just one paper). But he doesn’t just study magnetic properties of stuff; he uses those properties to solve problems throughout Earth science. He has contributed to the understanding of wandering poles, evidence for cometary impacts, wiggles of various sorts, and the nature of the geomagnetic field. He played a key role in putting together marine magnetic anomalies, biostratigraphy, isotopic dating, and magnetostratigraphy to build the geological time scale. This humongous effort is his most cited body of work.

But Dennis isn’t simply a paper machine. He is also a role model for all of us. And not just for those of us lucky enough to have been mentored directly by him, but also through his informal advising. He is very generous in providing time in his lab, and he has helped many young scientists with thoughtful advice. He has many Ph.D.s and postdocs in his flock as well as many students who had him as an external examiner.

He has consistently served the Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism (GP) community as reviewer, as associate editor, with service on U.S. National Science Foundation panels and AGU committees, and as president of our section.

It is appropriate that the GP section present this award to Dennis. He needs it to complete his collection of medals and awards. He won the Arthur L. Day Medal from the Geological Society of America in 2003. He’s a member of the National Academy. He’s got not one but two doctorates, and one of them is French! He got the the Vening Meinesz Medal from the University of Utrecht and the Petrus Peregrinus Medal from the European Geosciences Union. So to give this honor to Dennis is pretty much a no-brainer. I just hope he can find room on his mantelpiece for this one.

Lisa Tauxe, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla


Thank you very much, Lisa, for your generous citation, and thank you, colleagues and friends, for being instrumental in the bestowal of this honor. This award is beautifully made, and the depiction of Gilbert’s terrella with the dipole axis laid horizontally is a wonderful reminder of the value of unorthodox perspectives in science. The GP section of AGU has been a great source of inspiration at all stages of my career by providing a forum for our discipline across the generations. I am grateful to all those “studious of the magnetic philosophy”—mentors, students, postdocs, and fellow researchers alike—who have provided such a collegial and stimulating context. Sustained collaborations with, to name a few, Neil Opdyke, Bill Lowrie, Steve Cande, Lisa Tauxe, Paul Olsen, Jeff Gee, and Giovanni Muttoni, ongoing joint work with great figures like Ted Irving, as well as further prospects of interactions with a new generation of thinkers and doers on the scene, have motivated and enriched my efforts in (continuing in the translated words of William Gilbert) “discovery of secret things and in the investigation of hidden causes…from sure experiments and demonstrated arguments” (not to mention lengthening my publication list!). I also gratefully acknowledge the more than 35 years of grant support from NSF and concurrent institutional support from Lamont and more recently Rutgers, and of course Carolyn on the home front, that provided the wherewithal to have such a good time doing research. Thank you all again, and be assured that the William Gilbert Award will have pride of place on my bookshelf.

Dennis Kent, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N. J., and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, N. Y.