Mervyn Paterson

The first time I met Mervyn Paterson was during my masters training at Stonybrook with Teng-Fong Wong, who came in the lab. one day telling me a famous professor from Australia was visiting the next day and whether I would like to join for dinner.  I was 21 year old when on that night I drank the best wines I had ever tasted in a small restaurant of Port Jefferson, NYC.


I met Mervyn again  – years later  – at ETH Zürich as I was visiting Luigi Burlini’s lab. and as Australian Scientific Instruments engineers – accompanied by Mervyn –  were there to upgrade the Patersons #6 and #9. I remember, looking at the rig partially dismantled on the floor, being completely amazed at how Mervyn had been able to design those machines, which seemed to have reached some sort of mechanical perfection.


Five years ago, I was lucky to spend an entire week with him in Canberra, as he gave me access to all the hand-drawings he made with a Rotring pen. I remember spending most of my days staring at these – true pieces of art –  and being more and more convinced, indeed, the he had reached perfection in designing those rigs. From the drawing to the end, everything was about beauty. I remember the lunches and dinner together at the faculty club, during which he told me about how he grew in the outback, his Cambridge years with Orowan, and him later coming to Earth Sciences. I remember vividly our walk in Canberra’s botanical garden, where like a child, I listened to his rock mechanics tales which involved all the mythological figures of a field I had now been working in for the past twenty years.


Since then, Marie Violay, now professor at EPFL in Switzerland, and I, have, designed a new generation gas rig with modern specifications, based on his drawings. Although functional, our rigs to the best look like what modern cars would look like when sitting next to the absolute perfection and beauty of an old Rolls Royce Phantom.


For your kindness, for your all your scientific achievements and breakthroughs, but most and for all, for giving to our field a taste of the Mona Lisa and a vision that will feed rock mechanics for several generations, thank you Mervyn!

Alexandre SCHUBNEL, Laboratoire de Géologie, ENS PARIS, France

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