Mervyn Paterson

As a young postdoc interested in rock mechanics and microstructures, I invited Mervyn to our department in Bern to give a talk and a seminar. It was sometime in the very late 80s or early 90s, and he had been visiting the ETH in Zürich to help install one of his newest Paterson rigs with Dave Olgaard who was in charge of the lab at the time. I had been a close follower of Mervyn‘s work since reading his 1973 paper on nonhydrostatic thermodynamics of pressure solution and was eager to discuss more recent results he and others in his lab had published (and that I had cited) on fine-grained polycrystalline olivine. Although I did not know him well, I offered him the guest room in the flat that my then-wife and I had at the time, and he readily accepted. After his talk and dinner for him and others at a local restaurant, we walked back to our place for a nightcap. On the way, I asked him how he had become involved in rock mechanics and, in a subdued manner, he recounted his formative years at Adelaide, CSIRO and Cambridge as well as the beginnings of ANU. Back at the flat, I had energy to spare and, thinking “this is my chance”, proceeded to bombard him with questions on his talk and his experiments over a glass of wine. He said little. Finally thinking that the poor man was tired after a long day, I suggested that he feel free to rise at his leisure in the morning. No, he said dryly, he was just listening and hadn’t been aware of the issues that had been vexing us, which had to do with syntectonic grain growth and rock strength. The next morning, he was just as quiet at breakfast as during the previous evening. Feeling awkward at having taxed him, I resigned myself to a subdued farewell and offered to take him to the station. He then cleared his throat and proceeded over the next hour to discuss methodically each of the topics addressed the night before. It was an impressive demonstration of devoted thought and attention to relevant detail. I was struck by his willingness -perhaps his need- to return to first principles when considering a scientific problem. There, in front of me, was the author of that 1973 paper that had so captured my attention years before. I am sure Mervyn had many sides which I never got to know, but his short visit left me with at least part of his legacy –carefully documented and reproduceable data, and thoughtful, balanced interpretations.

Mark Handy

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