Fred Phillips Receives GSA's Kirk Bryan Award, Dec. 19, 2005

by George Zamora

SOCORRO, N.M., Dec. 19, 2005 – New Mexico Tech hydrology professor Fred M. Phillips recently was named the co-recipient of the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) 2005 Kirk Bryan Award for Research Excellence.

The prestigious international honor, which is awarded each year by the GSA’s Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division, was presented to Phillips and his research colleague, John C. Gosse, formerly of the University of Kansas and now at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, for their seminal research paper, titled “Terrestrial in situ cosmogenic nuclides: theory and application.” The 85-page paper was published in 2001in Quaternary Science Reviews.

“This comprehensive review paper provides a remarkable, in-depth summary of all aspects of terrestrial cosmogenic nuclide research from both theoretical and applied perspectives,” said Edward Evenson of Lehigh University, referring to it as “the bible” in its research field. Evenson provided the citation for the Kirk Bryan Award during the award presentation made at the 117th annual meeting of the GSA in Salt Lake City.

Phillips, who has been at New Mexico Tech for 25 years, has been the past recipient of numerous national and international awards for his research contributions made to the scientific fields of hydrogeology, geomorphology, and Quaternary geology, which covers the last 1.7 million years of Earth’s geologic history.

The GSA alone, for example, previously honored Phillips with the O.E. Meizner Award for advances in hydrogeology and also named him as one of the organization’s Birdsall-Dreiss Distinguished Lecturers, a geological trifecta of sorts that no one else has previously achieved.

Most of Phillips’ diverse research in the geosciences stems from a technique he pioneered of using measured ratios of radioactive isotopes of chlorine formed by cosmic-ray reactions in rocks and other landforms to more accurately date geological events of the past million years such as earthquakes, landslides, and glaciers.

“John [Gosse] and I both recognize that through this [Kirk Bryan] award the scientific community that has worked to make cosmogenic nuclides a routine tool for the sciences of geomorphology and Quaternary geology is also being honored,” Phillips said in accepting the award.

In addition to his teaching and research at New Mexico Tech, Phillips also recently assumed the post of principal investigator and coordinator of the CRONUS-Earth Project, a multi-year, multi-disciplinary research project funded by the National Science Foundation. The acronym CRONUS stands for Cosmic-Ray Produced Nuclide Systematics.

The CRONUS-Earth Project is tasked with rigorously and systematically identifying and investigating sources of uncertainty in cosmogenic-nuclide production so as to improve the accuracy and reliability of geochronology techniques and other scientific applications that rely on analyses of cosmogenic surface exposure.

In addition to New Mexico Tech, 12 other research institutions are directly involved with the CRONUS-Earth Project, which recently teamed up with a European counterpart, making the five-year research project a multi-national collaboration.