History of the Department

Wolf River Batholith–L. Gordon Medaris and his students completed a hallmark study of the Proterozoic Wolf River batholith of Northeastern Wisconsin. They recognized this large batholith to be a major feature of the Precambrian geology of North America, which resulted from a continent-wide episode of A-type granitic magmatism 1400-1500 million years ago.

Pleistocene geology–David M. Mickelson succeeded R.F. Black in Pleistocene geology. He helped to catalyze a new level of interdisciplinary collaboration for Quaternary studies (i.e. glaciation, fluvial geomorphology, paleoclimate, archaeology, etc.). Mickelson has also been very active in (and has served as chairperson of) the interdisciplinary Water Resources Management program. He has collaborated on a variety of applied environmental problems, as well as in public outreach.

International Conference on Geosynclinal Sedimentation–R.H. Dott organized a conference to honor Marshall Kay, which was sponsored by the department and the National Science Foundation. Occurring in the early days of the new plate tectonics paradigm, the conference was especially timely. The proceedings were published as SEPM Special Publication 19, Modern and Ancient Geosynclinal Sedimentation.

Rock physics–With the appointment of Herbert F. Wang, the department reaffirmed the pioneering work of Warren J. Mead 50 years earlier in the speciality of rock physics. Wang has worked closely with Nikolas Christensen for several years (see 1996 below).

1972 to present date

Field Camp
Field Camp, Park City, UT.

The department joined The Wasatch-Uinta Field Geology Consortium with a fixed base at Park City, Utah. After 26 years, the former roving field course was abandoned, because of the increasing difficulty of finding suitable campsites for a large group and to increase the ratio of time spent for instruction compared to that for subsistence. The field camp faculty, as well as its student body, is composed of people from each of the participating institutions. Robert M. Gates served as director of the consortium from 1979 to 1987.

Paleoecology–Charles W. Byers was appointed to the vacancy in sedimentary geology created by the premature death of Lewis Cline. Besides continuing Cline’s coverage of stratigraphy, Byers introduced the new specialty of paleoecology, which became an important complement to the sedimentology programs of Lloyd Pray and Robert Dott. This began a fruitful collaboration between Byers and Dott in sedimentological research on the Cambro-Ordovician strata of Wisconsin. Since 1986, Byers has collaborated with Dana Geary in both instruction and research in various aspects of paleobiology.


Weeks Hall site 72-76
Weeks Hall was built in 1974.

Weeks Hall Phase I–The Department of Geology and Geophysics moved into the main part of the Lewis G. Weeks Hall for the Geological Sciences. For the first time in 20 years, the department was finally under one roof in the finest of modern teaching and research facilities. This new building was made possible by the unprecedented gift of $3.6 million from petroleum geologist alumnus Lewis G. Weeks of the Class of 1917. This was the largest single private gift to the UW up to that time, and was made possible by Weeks’ key role in the discovery of large petroleum reserves beneath the Bass Straits in Australia. Phase II of the building was completed in 1980, and the Weeks philanthropy continued with a generous bequest in 1977 (see below).

Hydrogeology had gathered one of the largest groups of graduate students in the department and become an important component of several interdisciplinary programs around the campus. The importance of this rapidly growing field was recognized with the addition of Mary P. Anderson. She continued Stephenson’s research on groundwater-lake interaction and also brought a new speciality of computer modeling of groundwater systems. Her 1982 textbook with Herb Wang and her 1992 textbook with alumnus William Woessner are both highly regarded in the field.

Honorary doctorate–Emily (Micky) Hahn received the Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from the university. During the 1920s, Emily took many geology courses and was active in the Geology Club. She fully intended to earn her B.S. in geology until she was told by the chairman of the Department of Mining and Metallurgy that “under no circumstances could a woman major therein.” She successfully defied that male chauvinism and became a life-long champion of women to determine their own careers. She worked widely overseas in mining engineering and authored 27 books; most notable of which are her vivid accounts of life in China.


Lewis Weeks
Lewis Weeks

The Weeks Bequest–Benefactor Lewis G. Weeks died in March. In his will, he left a bequest of $4.8 million dollars to be disbursed over 20 years (1978-1998), which was to enhance the programs of the department. The faculty chose to spend approximately half of the annual income and to reinvest the other half in order to establish a permanent endowment.

The International Symposium on Antarctic Geology and Geophysics was hosted by the department. More than 200 scientists from 15 countries attended. Professor Campbell Craddock was the principal organizer and was editor of the resulting volume of proceedings, Antarctic Geoscience, which was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1982.

The Orthoquartzite-Carbonate Conference–C.W. Byers and R.H. Dott convened an international SEPM Research Conference in Wisconsin to revisit the long-standing orthoquartzite-carbonate problem. They had recently demonstrated the eolian deposition of portions of the Cambrian and Ordovician pure quartz sandstones of Wisconsin. Although long debated, the importance of eolian processes in the genesis of the famous and enigmatic pure quartz sheet sandstones had not been previously recognized.

Weeks Hall Phase II was completed. A major part of this phase was a large lecture hall, which was later named the “Lowell R. Laudon Lecture Hall” in honor of that legendary beginning geology lecturer, who retired in 1975. Other major components of the second phase were space for the Geology Museum under the direction of Klaus Westphal, and a doubling of the library space.

Centennial celebration–Upon completion of the second phase of Lewis G. Weeks Hall for Geological Sciences, the department celebrated the centennial of the establishment of a separate Department of Mineralogy and Geology in 1878. The following were two highlights of that celebration:

Bailey history of the department
The Bailey history

S.W. Bailey’s History of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wisconsin 1848-1980 (right) was published to commemorate the department’s centennial. One highlight recorded 30 alumni who had been presidents of major geological societies worldwide. Twelve had received major society awards, and one had recently been director of the U.S. Geological Survey (V.E. McKelvey). Today the figures would be significantly larger.

An international proterozoic symposium was held with approximately 150 participants from seven countries. Two major publications resulted, GSA Memoir 160–Early Proterozoic Geology of the Great Lakes Region and Memoir 161–Proterozoic Geology: Selected Papers from an International Proterozoic Symposium. Both were edited by Professor L. Gordon Medaris and were published in 1983.

Fluid Inclusions
Fluid Inclusions

Economic geology–Philip Brown joined the faculty upon the retirement of E.N. Cameron, and has continued the department’s long tradition in economic geology. He has emphasized gold deposits and has refined the analysis of fluid inclusions for the determination of temperature and pressure with applications to mineralizing fluids, metamorphism, and diagenesis. Brown also has been a pioneer in developing applications of computers in general geology instruction.