Thursday, December 17, 2009

The highlight of the AGU meeting (so far)

Yesterday’s highlight for me was, without a doubt, the Bowen lectures. Tim Holland & and Roger Powell have been recognized for their contributions to Metamorphic Petrology for their efforts in the creation of their internally consistent thermodynamic data set and their Thermocalc program which uses that data set to do a variety of thermodynamic calculations and were invited to speak on the history of their research and the directions they see the science going from here. The titles of the talks they presented are: Calculated metamorphic phase equilibria. Applications and strategies for equilibria in high pressure rocks (presented by Tim) and Activity-composition relationships in the forward modeling of metamorphic phase equilibria (presented by Roger). While I found the science part of the talk useful and fascinating, the part I’m going to write about today is my reaction to passing comments made during their talk. Tim shared a photo of himself doing field work for his PhD project in the Alps in 1979, and commented that this award is generally awarded to “mid-career” scientists. By my math that means their career should continue to be active through the year 2039. Roger’s talk included the fact that the bulk of the creation of the internally consistent data set is, by necessity, the work of a single individual (Tim), while the coding for the programs they’ve developed is, likewise, primarily the work of a single individual (Roger), but that both tasks are immensely facilitated by the many hours of discussion on the topics they’ve shared over the years (I’m seriously paraphrasing here).

The combination of these comments prompted me to wonder what arrangements they’ve made for the continuation of their work when they are no longer able to continue. Are they training their students to continue to expand the data set? Is there someone out there who is able to continue to refine the coding of the programs as new information is available that suggests potential improvements? Since I didn’t actually get to meet either individual, I didn’t have an opportunity to ask, nor, do I think, would it be the most appropriate of questions. I do know that they’ve delegated the maintenance of the Thermocalc web page therefore it wouldn’t surprise me if they have other collaborators working with them to keep their tools growing and accessible into the future, even if they decide to retire at some point.

2 comments:

JF said...

Well, I'm replying quite late to this post, but to answer one of your points : yes besides Tim and Roger, there are a few people more or less actively involved in expanding or maintaining the database, or parts of it (Richard White, Johann Diener, Jonathan Dale...) to name a few -- and there are also people outside their group working on a-X models (Vincent van Hinsberg, Lucia Tacmanova...). Of course, the main coordination and compilation is still Roger's work, but I'm pretty sure that whenever he retires, there will be somebody stepping in. After all, there are as many as 6, perhaps 10 person in the world who do really understand a-X models... :-)

A Life Long Scholar said...

Thanks for chiming in--it is a delightful surprise to find out that there is someone out there who knows what I'm talking about who has read my words.