I started my PhD with Mervyn in early 1980. Having come to ANU with a degrees in Physics and Mathematics, and spent my Master’s research doing observational stellar spectroscopy, I lacked a background in geology and certainly in the mechanical properties of rocks and minerals. On my first day, Mervyn summoned me into his office to have a conversation about thesis topics and what would be needed to bring me up to speed with the necessary background. It was simple: he wanted me to work on hydrolytic weakening of quartz, following up on Kumar Kekulawala’s thesis work of a couple of years prior. And for the next few months I was to learn all I needed to know about the topic, and the necessary experimental and analytical techniques. My mentor through this process would be Dave Mainprice. I was sent on my way, with instructions to return when I was ready for a further discussion on my thesis topic. Over the next couple of months, I learned a lot about the current and past projects within Mervyn’s group … especially including the challenges of addressing water weakening of quartz at relatively modest pressures. After many discussions with Dave and Prame about the feasibility of making progress with the “quartz question”, I revisited Mervyn in his office. I expressed concern about a thesis focused on a seemingly intractable problem and suggested that maybe I could work on another topic of interest to Mervyn at the time – semi-brittle deformation. He looked at me, nodded a couple of times and quietly suggested that if I didn’t feel up to the challenge, we could certainly consider another topic. And with that the conversation was over – quartz it would be!
Mervyn was an amazing man. Thoughtful, measured, insightful. If he saw a scientific or technical challenge that intrigued him, he would conquer it. I greatly value my time as a student with Mervyn and the many exchanges and interactions we have had since. His wisdom will be missed.