Saturday, August 14, 2010

My host’s great-grand father

When I was in Norway earlier this summer, rather than staying in hotels I chose to couch surf, for much of the trip. There is something quite nice about staying with local hosts; one gets to meet people one wouldn’t have otherwise met, and one gets to learn something about the local area and the people who live there. Or, in some cases, the people who have lived there long ago.
My host in Bergen, when she discovered that I’m a geologist told me about her great-grandfather, who was a geologist, so I looked him up. Tom Barth (1899-1971) published over 200 papers in his life in the fields of mineralogy, petrology, and geochemistry. When he was young he studied with Goldschmidt and Eskola, names that should be well known to anyone who has ever read a basic metamorphic geology text. He was one of the people involved in the early stages of developing an understanding of the way crystal structure works, and was the first to demonstrate that chemically different atoms can occupy crystallographically identical sites.
What fun serendipity that my host while I was traveling happens to be descended from a scientist whose life-work comprised an important part of the framework that was a necessary prelude to my own research.

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