Photo of G. Brent Dalrymple

G. Brent Dalrymple

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For his pioneering work in determining the geomagnetic polarity reversal timescale; a discovery that led to the theory of plate tectonics.

Geologist G. Brent Dalrymple’s contributions to science did not stop at research and discovery, but extended to his vigorous defense of scientific principles as well. In 1963, after receiving his Ph.D in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley, Dalrymple joined the U.S. Geological Survey to solve the mysterious history of Earth’s magnetic field. Recruited for his expertise in radiometric dating, Dalrymple built a state-of-the-art laboratory from scratch that, by 1965, would help his team create the first historical timeline of Earth’s magnetic polarity. Dalrymple’s work enabled others to answer key questions in Earth science, and sparked what he has referred to as a scientific revolution in plate tectonics.

Dalrymple’s activism around public education issues have also been hugely important. In 1981, he served as a key witness in an Arkansas trial in which he argued that creationism, which was mandated by the state to receive balanced treatment with evolution in the curricula of schools, did not hold up to basic standards for scientific inquiry. Thanks in part to his testimony, the mandate was struck down by a federal judge. The case would later influence similar rulings around the country.

By Jeremy Gordon