Swanson-Hysell Receives 2014 William Gilbert Award

Nicholas Swanson-Hysell received the 2014 William Gilbert Award at the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, held 15–19 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes outstanding and unselfish work in magnetism of Earth materials and of the Earth and planets.


Swanson_Hysell_Nicholas_Gilbert_Award_SIZEDI take a lot of pleasure in presenting Nicholas Swanson-Hysell with the 2014 William Gilbert Award for his impactful, rigorous, and original research in paleomagnetism and its applications to tectonics, paleoclimate, and fundamental rock magnetic studies.

Nick’s dissertation work revisited the basalts of the North American Midcontinent Rift, which were long thought to show evidence of asymmetric reversals. Through meticulous field mapping, Nick was able to place the reversal history within a detailed stratigraphic context and showed that Laurentia was moving rapidly southward toward the equator during the rifting process and that each successive reversal within the sequence was largely symmetric, thereby resolving a decades-old mystery and demonstrating that the geocentric axial dipole (GAD) hypothesis could be extended back in time 1.1 billion years.

Since his Ph.D., Nick has leveraged an incredible scientific toolset that includes rock and paleomagnetism, isotope geochemistry, and sedimentology and stratigraphy to make similarly major contributions to paleogeographic studies, paleoclimatology, impact magnetization, and pure fundamental rock magnetism.  This unusual combination of geophysical and geochemical research skills has allowed Nick to improve our understanding of major events in Earth history ranging from Neoproterozoic glaciations to the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum.

The thing about Nick that stands out to all who work with him is his generosity of spirit. Whether he’s helping teach the Summer School in Rock Magnetism at the Institute for Rock Magnetism or contributing to the PmagPy code that is the foundation for the MagIC database, Nick makes a genuine effort to give back to our community.  In short, he’s an inspiring fellow to be around, and in a field where there are always fewer honors than people who deserve them, I am exceptionally happy that we can recognize Nick’s past and future scientific work with the William Gilbert Award.

—Joshua M. Feinberg, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Minneapolis



I am truly honored to have been chosen to receive the 2014 William Gilbert Award from the American Geophysical Union (AGU). As an early career scientist, I have received so much mentorship and intellectual invigoration from the members of the Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism section of the Union. It is with great thanks that I accept this recognition from them.

I got started on this path as an undergraduate due to the mentorship of Dave Bice, who sent me off to the North American Midcontinent Rift to obtain samples for a tectonics course at Carleton College. Guided by Mike Jackson, I made my first measurements on a magnetometer at the Institute for Rock Magnetism (IRM). These measurements revealed the asymmetric normal and reversed directions that Josh wrote of above. As I soon discovered in the literature, I had stumbled upon the problem of Keweenawan reversal asymmetry. Around this time, Adam Maloof came through Carleton to give a talk. He had been thinking about ways to more firmly constrain the magnitude of the asymmetry. Talking about the problem with Adam led me to begin geologic and paleomagnetic inquiry as a graduate student at Princeton, where I benefitted immeasurably from his mentorship. That period revealed to me the true generosity of this community as I conducted appreciable lab work during my Ph.D. research in five different paleomagnetism labs. I am deeply grateful to Dave Evans, Joe Kirschvink, Ben Weiss, Dennis Kent, and their students for welcoming me into their labs, enabling the collection of data, and providing mentorship and inspiration.

My time during graduate school as an informal visitor and visiting fellow at the IRM further opened my eyes to rock magnetism. Josh Feinberg and Mike Jackson were unfailingly generous with their time and expertise in helping me craft ways to get at some particularly vexing rock magnetic puzzles. I feel very lucky to have gotten the opportunity to be at the IRM as an National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow, where interactions with members of the IRM, including Bruce Moskowitz, Julie Bowles, Peat Solheid, and others, as well as the many visiting fellows, made for a quite stimulating environment. And now I have the good fortune of being a part of the geomagnetism and paleomagnetism (GP) community here at the University of California, where I have particularly benefitted from recent interactions with Rob Coe and Lisa Tauxe. Lisa’s open source approach to sharing knowledge, expertise, and software has been inspirational.

Again, thank you to the GP community and AGU for this recognition and for the support you all have given to me and other young scientists.

—Nicholas L. Swanson-Hysell, University of California, Berkeley