Stanley Hart

1997 Harry H. Hess Medal Winner

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

Stanley Hart was awarded the Harry H. Hess Medal at the AGU Spring Meeting Honor Ceremony on May 28, 1997, in Baltimore, Md. The Hess medal recognizes outstanding achievements in research in the constitution and evolution of Earth and its sister planets. The award citation and Hart’s response are given here.


Citation by Claude Allègre

“Geochemistry has invaded Earth sciences in a way similar to that in which biochemistry has invaded the biological sciences. This invasion is primarily the result of the work done by a few pioneers, who have created the basis of modern geochemistry. When Stan Hart began his Ph.D. at MIT, isotope geochemistry was engaged in the development of modern geochronology. Stan realized that the most important issue in testing the validity of the dates given by the various isotopic methods was to develop a comparative geochronology, which led to the question of how the different chronometers behave when they are subjected to geological perturbation, particularly at elevated temperatures. To study this problem he chose a well-posed example, the Eldora stock, where a young pluton intruded on old Precambrian terrain, and he examined the contact metamorphism and its effects on the K/Ar and Rb/Sr isotopic systems in various minerals. This study still stands as a classic today: It formed the basis for understanding age discordancy between isotopic systems and minerals.

“Stan then moved to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where the famous quartet Wetherill, Tilton, Aldrich, and Davis were mapping Precambrian rocks in the United States using comparative geochronology. He immediately became a prominent member of the team and inspired many geochronological initiatives. With the migration and restructuring that occurred at Carnegie, he became the leader of what was then called the `young Turks’ with Tom Krogh, Al Hofmann, Chris Brooks, and others. He was already a legend to young people trying to do modern geochemistry, both at home and abroad.

“However, the big test in his career occurred in the late 1960s. Stan, with Jean-Guy Schilling and the late Paul Gast, was one of the few geochemists to realize the potential of the field opened up by plate tectonics and how it was important to study basalts of the ocean floor. At the same time, the exploration of the Moon led Wasserburg to develop a new generation of instruments capable of measuring isotope ratios with an extraordinary precision. Stan and his colleagues at Carnegie had constructed a similar instrument and used it immediately to study sea floor basalts.

“This marked the start of an extraordinary love affair that since then has associated Stan Hart and basalts. Without doubt, he is today `Mr. Basalt’ in geochemistry. Stan has studied basalts in every environment: mid-oceanic ridge basalts, oceanic island basalts, subduction zone basalts, old basalts, Archean basalts. He has also studied basaltic systems in the laboratory, where he was a pioneer in the measurement of partition coefficients for trace elements, but more importantly, he was one of the first to study quantitatively the effect of diffusion and to understand the fundamental problem of how isotopic memories work. His paper with Al Hofmann in the volume honoring Paul Gast is a keystone for geochemistry, isotopic coding with magma, and isotopic memory in solids.

“All of this work engaged Stan and his colleagues in the development of models of the structure and evolution of the Earth’s mantle, and they thereby became front runners in what we call chemical geodynamics. Through his work with his students and postdocs at MIT and Woods Hole, his contributions have been fundamental in various aspects of this field. These are too numerous to mention in detail, but they paved the way to progress in every part of the field. What is perhaps more important is to emphasize how Stan works in geochemistry. First, he takes care of rocks. He knows the rocks well, he is a real expert in modern petrology, and he appreciates various aspects of modern geology. Second, he is an expert in the laboratory. He appreciates instruments, he builds instruments, he loves instruments. With the advent of ion probes, he was one of the first to recognize the potential importance of these instruments, and much of their modern success in the United States can be attributed to his start in this field with Nobu Shimizu.

“On top of this, Stan is an exceptionally talented scientist, he chooses good problems, and he always solves them in an elegant and rigorous way. However, it is as important to recognize his role as a leader. Everywhere he goes, he becomes a leader, not as a science administrator but as an intellectual leader. At Carnegie, he was already a leader. When he moved to MIT, he built the most vigorous group of students in the whole world; now under his influence, Woods Hole is one of the top centers in the world for modern geochemistry. He has produced more students, postdocs, and `students at large’ than anyone. I don’t know anybody who has been as influential to the younger generation as Stan Hart.

“The reason for this is probably because of his special attitude to science and scientists. Stan loves science and innovation, and new discoveries excite him, but the way he practices science is both very competitive and very respectful of the work of other people, particularly those who are younger. Stan especially likes young bright people, and when he recognizes a young talent, in his group or abroad, he helps that talent and encourages it. He also likes acronyms. Some are good, like MORB; some are less good.

“Arguing with Stan has been one of the great pleasures for many in the geochemistry community, especially myself, over the last 30 years. Enthusiastic and critical, competitive and generous, tough and fair, and particularly friendly. This is the way all of us admire and love Stan Hart. No one in our field is a more appropriate recipient of the Harry Hess Medal.”

—CLAUDE ALLÈGRE, University of Paris, Paris, France

Citation by Albrecht W. Hofmann

“Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

“You have just heard the official citation, and it is probably obvious that Claude Allègre’s prose is special and should not be delivered by anyone other than the one and only `I Claudius’ himself. So please permit me now to add a few remarks of my own, if only to complement the `Allegro con brio’ with a `Finale presto.’

“Stan has been the reigning guru of mantle isotope geochemistry for as long as I can remember. He has defined its language, mostly by way of coining acronyms, so much that even seismologists now know that mid-ocean ridge basalts are properly called MORB. Guardians of the English language, such as the Royal Society of London and Nature, have tried to tame this monster by renaming it m. o. r. b. However, language has its own way: Stan won the battle with the grammarians. He has coined many other acronyms, such as HIMU, DUPAL, and FOZO. Some of them, like LoNd, are truly ugly, but Stan makes them stick, whether you like them or not.

“By measuring the isotopic composition of strontium in MORB, Stan established the depleted nature of the mantle source that feeds these basalts. This is taken so much for granted today that very few people realize where this knowledge comes from. He measured this, by the way, using a rather questionable method. He simply prepared a composite of a bunch of ocean floor basalt samples and measured the Sr isotopic composition of this single composite. You get an average this way, but you lose all information about the variability of the population. Well, Stan never worried about that. He knew he had the right answer and, in fact, his answer has stood the test of time extremely well. The depleted nature of the upper mantle is a crucial item that ties together the origin and evolution of continents with the evolution of the mantle.

“This story about MORB illustrates one of Stan’s most important characteristics: his almost uncanny intuition about scientific findings as well as about people. I have on at least two occasions trusted that intuition about people against my own judgment, and I have not regretted it.

“Very recently, Stan has written a paper on a subject of profound importance; namely, how do melts get out of the mantle? Those of you who are in environmental science may not find this to be such an intensely interesting subject. However, just remember this: if melts did not get out of the mantle, there would not be much of a crust for us to live on. The surface of the Earth would be totally inhospitable to us, simply because it is the igneous processes which have concentrated anywhere from 30% to 70% of the total inventory of the Earth’s potassium and phosphorous in the crust. Without this potassium and phosphorous, the crust could not sustain even a fraction of the plant, animal, and human life that we take for granted.

“Stan’s paper is an extremely elegant treatment using a fractal tree as an analogue. It has so far been ignored by virtually everyone else in the field, probably because it is so simple and beautiful. Well, my intuition says that Stan has the right answer to the problem and that the infinitely complex processes involved in melt formation, movement, and extraction will all conspire to generate a fractal tree, so that we can understand the overall process without being able to observe all the details.

“There is a final item about Stan that I want to emphasize, something to which Claude Allègre has also alluded: Stan is one of the few top-level scientists who can compete with you and at the same time remain your absolutely loyal friend. I have never known him to knowingly bend his ethical standards to serve his competitive advantage. At a time when the competition for funds has become so fierce that the motto of the American Geophysical Union, namely, unselfish cooperation, is under attack almost every day, we need leaders and role models with such standards if we want to keep science from becoming merely a business enterprise such as selling real estate or used cars.

“Stan, I know you are disappointed that Claude could not come here to deliver his citation; so am I, but at the same time I am very pleased that he asked me to read his speech and to give me the opportunity to get in a few licks of my own.

“Mr. President, may I present Stanley R. Hart to receive the Harry H. Hess Medal.”

—ALBRECHT W. HOFMANN, Max-Planck-Institut für Chemie, Mainz, Germany


“Mr. President, fellow honorees, colleagues, and guests. Words like honored, grateful, privileged, and appreciative come to mind, but they fall so short! Thank you all. My special thanks to Al Hofmann, the pinch hitter from the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, for stepping into the hole left by the recent Socialist party victory in France; Al has added many dimensions to the citation written by Claude Allègre, and his last minute heroism in donning black tie attire is deeply appreciated (and reinforces again our common heritage as Anthropoidea)!

“I have a wonderful group of family and friends here with me today, and this gives me the greatest pleasure. Pam, my wife and cherished traveling companion, is easily recognizable by her stunning orange gown. No understatement for her tonight! My number one (eldest) daughter Jolene is here, with husband Mark (a.k.a. Harpo). Their young son, Conor, and baby Ciara are back in the hotel room. My newly turned 15-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, and son, Nathaniel, who is 13, round out the well-dressed family in the first row. They provide the center of gravity which enables me to, as some would say, `go off on tangents’ all too frequently. My children literally `span’ my career. Jolene was born in Pasadena when I was a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology; Liz and Nate were born in Boston while I was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thus I don’t know what it’s like to not juggle family and work; I hope some part of this medal reflects a measure of success with this and the forbearance of my family for lapses.

“It is superfluous to say that my presence at this ceremony also owes much to the help, support, and stimulation of all the students, colleagues, friends, and provocateurs who `rode the rails’ with me over the years. No one of you has failed to leave a thread in my tapestry: Res Ipsa Loquitur (the thing speaks for itself).

“Without burdening you with a roll call, I would particularly like to call attention to the incredible group of colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who make my present life stimulating and exciting and who contribute crucial signal strength in the sea of soft-money noise.

“On first consideration, I thought I might cast my response in nouns and adjectives only, following the precedent set by last year’s Bowie Medal citationist, Dev L. Advocate. However, I decided that would be too much like a geochemist trying to do geophysics. I would like to pursue a bit the theme of `boundary-crossing’ science, and its importance in today’s research milieu. In particular, I want to commemorate and honor Harry Hammond Hess, whose career was the embodiment of crossover Earth science. As Buddington once noted, Harry Hess “`lived five lives contemporaneously.’” Hess worked as an exploration geologist prior to graduate school, then did a Ph.D. at Princeton on the Schuyler alpine peridotite in Virginia. (It is thus fitting that the present Hess Medal comes affixed to a small block of Schuyler serpentinite!) During graduate school, he did gravity work from submarines and acquired a Naval Reserve rating to facilitate further geophysical studies from submarines. This led to active duty during World War II, ultimately as Commander of an attack transport in the southwest Pacific. Harry’s remarkable passion for geology is captured by the story of noncoms returning to his ship, after landings of extreme hazard, carrying boulders of basalt because they knew their skipper loved rocks! By leaving the sounding gear (depth recorder) on more or less continuously, and with perhaps some liberties in arranging travel routes relative to Naval orders, Hess was able to vastly extend our knowledge of the bathymetry of the Pacific. From this came the discovery of guyots (drowned islands), which were later to figure in Hess’s classic 1962 paper, `History of Ocean Basins.’ Hess introduced this paper as an “`essay in geopoetry,’” but this was a not untypical modest understatement. This paper put forth the hypothesis of seafloor spreading, with explicit recognition of the necessary affiliated processes of new ocean crust formation and mantle convection. In 21 pages, the world of geology was changed forever.

“When I first met Harry Hess during a lecture stop at Princeton in the early 1960s, I was surprised to find a quiet and low-keyed individual (quite unlike the isotope geochemists who formed most of my professional horizons). However, the remark I like best about Hess, relayed by Hal James in his memoir of Hess, was from a Princeton dean who was heard to remark of Harry that “`his bite was worse than his bark!’”

“Hess characterized his famous seafloor spreading paper as “`geopoetry.’” Perhaps on this occasion you will give me leave to indulge in some `geopolitics.’ A prime concern of scientists today is the ever-increasing fiscal constraints on the conduct of science and the resulting malaise and mean-spiritedness overtaking this community of scholars. The need for formulating budgetary priorities inevitably leads to the basic science versus applied science conundrum. In fact, I don’t see any strategic difference between basic research (or so-called curiosity-driven research, which trivializes the practice) and applied research (which trivializes the practitioners); they are one and the same, differing only in the term or timescale of the investment. Basic science is the tool we use in nurturing both investments: it is the shovel we use to plant our trees, the fertilizer we use to make them flourish, and the saw we use to harvest them. It matters not whether we use the shovel, the fertilizer, or the saw. What matters is our commitment to strive for excellence in the endeavor. Trees that grow slowly and trees that grow quickly are both trees; one is not better, one is not inferior.

“Let us go forth with our shovels and saws. Let us attract our constituency to a conversation about investment in trees. Let us reason with them to show that before we can harvest a tree, we must plant it; before we can plant it, we must dig an empty hole in the ground.

“For the pleasure I have had in my career, past, present and future—I thank you all.”

—STANLEY HART, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts