Mervyn Paterson

How lucky we have been as scientists engaged in rock mechanics research to live and work in the presence of one of the legends in our field, Mervyn S. Paterson. While I never had the first-hand pleasure of working with Mervyn side-by-side in the laboratory, I have so many fond memories of discussions with him, exchanges in writing, and pleasant times over a dinner, while hiking or while bird watching. No doubt, future generations of scientists will continue to know M.S. Paterson for his remarkable scientific accomplishments, his enduring publications, and the elegant, refined instruments he contributed to our labs. However, what I hope to convey here is how friendly and gentle a man he was, at the same time that he accomplished so much.

I knew of Mervyn Paterson long before I met him, first as a student when my mentors expressed their sense of awe for his work, and then by reading his outstanding papers that featured exacting measurements at challenging laboratory temperature and pressure conditions. His studies touched on much of what we know about dislocation creep, diffusion creep, and grain boundary sliding of silicates and carbonates, evaluating creep laws and characterizing microstructures, defects, and textures resulting from deformation. His studies with students and postdocs of olivine single and polycrystalline creep and anelasticity at upper mantle conditions have helped shape our understanding of the asthenosphere and its transition to the lithosphere. Mervyn’s studies with his students of superplastic creep of carbonates, water weakening of quartz, and mica kinking were all fascinating and inspired many others to pursue studies that followed from his work. Mervyn addressed a wide range of rock properties, from fluid transport to electrical properties, to volumetric strains during high temperature creep and the flow of partial melts. All of these studies were carried out with the apparatus he designed and built, and would ultimately make available to the entire scientific community.

Mervyn brought to our field, the methodology and intellectual heritage of metallurgy and materials science. He developed theories to back up experimental studies of physical properties, including the thermodynamics of solids under non-hydrostatic conditions, evaluations of granular flow, predictions of hydrous defect solubility in quartz at high pressures and temperatures, and calibrations of OH absorption bands in the IR spectra of crystalline solids.

Meeting Mervyn Paterson for the first time, it was clear that all the scientific praise was merited. However, I was not prepared for the warmth and humanity of this famous scientist. Mervyn was a remarkable listener, who took the observations of others (even mine) seriously when he attempted to find explanations for the processes of deformation. Moreover, he openly shared his ideas, including his guesses and hypotheses, which might well be tested by others. I recall vividly Mervyn’s proposal that the natural deformation of coarse-grained Carrara marble and its lack of crystallographic alignments were the result of grain-size-sensitive creep mechanisms. I remember clearly how he pointed out a specific sharp, polarized OH band of quartz that he suspected might be the hydrous defect at dislocation cores (the “smoking gun” defect) responsible for water weakening. Neither of these hypotheses had been tested, and I believe he proposed ideas in this unguarded style so that the rest of us could develop our careers testing his smart hunches.

As an avid naturalist, Mervyn was well versed in the birds of Australia, and its unique flora and fauna. But he was an amazing world traveler as well, landing in airports of Europe, North America, and Nepal. He had a nose for the finest wines and cuisine. However, he also had an amazing breadth of experiences and ability to enjoy life. On his last trip to Texas, he missed seeing his lifelong friend, John Handin, who passed away that same year, but he took part in the anniversary celebration of John Handin’s creation, the Center for Tectonophysics. Most important to me, our students were given the chance to meet this most notable scientist of our times. And our central Texas students reveled in Mervyn’s enjoyment and amusement visiting the local dive known as “the Chicken,” sampling its three noteworthy features, fried chicken, cheap beer, and the live rattlesnake caged among the rustic tables.

I miss Mervyn dearly, and at the same time I count myself lucky to have shared this time, indeed my career, with this scientific giant, a warm colleague and close friend.


Andreas Kronenberg

© Remembrance Book 2019-2023

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