R. L. Folk/E. F. McBride Petrography Fund

May 22, 2001 | Excellence Funds & Program Support

The R.L. Folk/E.F. McBride Petrography Fund was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on May 22, 2001 for the benefit of the Jackson School of Geosciences. Initial gift funds were provided by Rodger E. Denison, Ph.D. of Dallas, Texas.

In the fall of 1971, Dr. Rodger E. “Tim” Denison, a UT Austin alumnus, sponsored an award to a University geology student who correctly identified a variety of rock hand specimens and thin sections (a small slab of a rock sample which is glued to a glass slide and ground to a specified thickness then viewed with a petrographic (polarizing) microscope under two different lighting conditions). The written competition is held each spring, with the winner receiving the Petrography Award, a cash prize of $1000 (a tidy sum back then), and the envy of her or his peers. Money and bragging rights aside, the popularity of this event was as much due to the participation of the interested faculty members who administered the process, chose the rock samples, and graded the tests. Although open to all, graduate students had an experience advantage over undergraduates. This situation was remedied in 1981, when a separate undergraduate award was created.

Seeking to ensure that this recognition of student expertise would be continued in future years, Tim established this endowment and named it after two faculty members in the Department of Geological Sciences, Drs. Robert L. Folk and Earle F. McBride who had stressed the importance of examining and understanding rocks over a number of decades to countless students.

R. L. Folk

Robert Louis Folk’s teaching and published contributions on sandstone, limestone, dolomite, shale, and chert during a 66-year career earned him numerous accolades, including the two highest honors for research in sedimentary geology; the W.H. Twenhofel Gold Medal in 1979 from the Society for Sedimentary Geology and the H.C. Sorby Medal in 1990 from the International Association of Sedimentologists. In addition, he has received the Penrose Medal in 2000, the premier medal for research from the Geological Society of America.

Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio,  Folk earned three degrees from Pennsylvania State College, the last, his Ph.D., in 1952. Bob worked for the Gulf Oil Company before joining UT Austin in the fall of 1952, where he taught sedimentary geology and supervised 57 Master’s and 19 Ph.D. students until his retirement in 1988. His teaching style might now be considered unusual – use of a 10 foot Yucca stalk as a pointer, lab exercises dominated by rocks, and sweaty field trips in East Texas.

Most of Bob’s major contributions are based on observations at the hand-specimens or thin-section scale. He had repeatedly seen textures in rocks that have been missed by others, and arrived at new and novel interpretations of features. Bob is the author of Petrology of Sedimentary Rocks, a soft-bound locally-published semi-text which first appeared in 1957 and was revised periodically until 1980. It remains a fundamental resource for sedimentary petrologists.

In 1980, Bob first became interested in the role of bacteria in forming materials and in 1990 using an electron microscope discovered the first mineralized nanobacteria, or dwarf bacteria, in the carbonate hot springs of Viterbo, near Rome, Italy. This evidence was later used by some NASA scientists to interpret features appearing in a Martian meteorite as being biological in origin, an evaluation that remains controversial. In 1973, Bob fell in love with Italy while he was a visiting professor at the University of Milano. An admirer of most things Italian, “Luigi,” as he is now nicknamed, is currently the Dave P. Carleton Centennial Professor Emeritus in Geology in the Department of Geological Sciences at the Jackson School. He reports to his office weekly to study Italian and Texas rocks, which are major focuses of research for him

E. F. McBride

Earle Francis McBride has published more than 200 articles, abstracts, field guidebook articles, and book chapters in his 53 years as a geoscientist. A native of Rock Island, Illinois, he is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Augustana College and received his M.A. from the University of Missouri and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1956 and 1960, respectively. Earle joined UT Austin in 1959 where he also taught sedimentary geology and supervised 52 Master’s and 17 Ph.D. students until his retirement in 2005. In addition, he served as chairman of the Department of Geological Sciences from 1980-85. Earle’s chief research interest is sandstone diagenesis: physical and chemical processes that alter sand after it is deposited and the fate of pores in sandstone. His work has focused on cementation by quartz and calcite, and on compaction. He also continues to be interested in the origins of chert and in the textural and compositional maturation of sand during transportation. Most recently, Earle and a colleague published their discovery that Omaha Beach sand, a sample of which he brought back from a visit to Normandy, France in 1988, contains 4% iron shrapnel, remnants from the D-Day invasion of June 1944. His devotion to his profession can be further seen by the 30 years of service he has given to the SEPM Society for Sedimentary Geology, an international society dedicated to disseminating scientific information on sedimentology, stratigraphy, paleontology, environmental sciences, marine geology, hydrogeology, and additional related specialties. In 1995, the organization awarded Earle with the Francis J. Pettijohn Medal for Sedimentology that is given to those individuals who have a significant record of outstanding contributions in sedimentary geology, including all aspects of sedimentology and stratigraphy. The honor had special meaning to him as Dr. Pettijohn, widely known as the founder of modern sedimentology, served as Earle’s mentor at Johns Hopkins. Currently, Earle is a Professor Emeritus and holds the J. Nalle Gregory Chair Emeritus in Sedimentary Geology in the Department of Geological Sciences at the Jackson School. He goes to his office daily for five hours to work on the McBride Number, the total number of sand grains on earth which he hopes will take its place among other mathematical constants such as pi, Avogadro’s number, the acceleration of gravity, Planck’s constant, and the DJIA (Dow Jones Industrial Average).

Tim remembers both men fondly. In his words, “people will never forget Folk in the class saying the most provocative things.” Of McBride, “his work is really remarkable in its volume, variety, and consistency of intellectual scholarship.” They (along with late faculty members Bill Muehlberger and Steve Clabaugh) possess a “vitality,” Tim feels, which sets them apart from others and he marvels that they are “still looking for answers to questions in their field of study.”

The son of Dr. A. Rodger Denison, a successful petroleum geologist who served as President of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists from 1943-44, Tim was born in Fort Worth and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Despite growing up in an oil town, his real interest was in studying history. Dissuaded from majoring in the subject by his parents who feared for his future employment prospects, Tim earned a B.S. in geology (which he sees as a “historical science” given it focus on studying the evolution of things through time) from the University of Oklahoma in 1954. He served with the U.S. Army for two years and then returned to OU, where he earned an M.A. in geology in 1959. After receiving his Ph.D. in geology from UT Austin in 1966, Tim joined Mobil Research and Development in Dallas where he selected and prepared igneous and metamorphic rocks for radiometric dating and interpreted the results for samples encountered in Mobil’s worldwide operations. He left Mobil after 10 years to look for oil and gas as a consulting geologist for 12 years but returned to the company until his retirement in 1992. Tim and his wife, Caroline, have a daughter, Cambria, who is the third generation in the Denison family to study the earth sciences. Cambria earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in geology from the University in 1989 and 1995, respectively. She is married to fellow Jackson School alumnus, Brian Reinsborough, (M.A. ’93). Their son, Calder, is a recent University graduate with a B.A. in psychology.

Tim’s devotion to the Jackson School is best exemplified by his service on the Geology Foundation Advisory Council (AC). A member since 1970 at the age of 38, he has never once missed an AC meeting which is held in the fall and spring of every academic year. As its chairman from 1989-91, Tim worked for closer relationships between faculty and council members by strengthening ties between the two groups and offering the former the benefit of the professional expertise of the latter. In 2010, he was given an honorary life membership on the Advisory Council in recognition of his 40-year record of support and commitment to the Jackson School. In presenting the award, Dean Sharon Mosher said, “Perhaps the most enduring legacy of Tim Denison’s service to the Jackson School reflects his love of students and learning.” Tim values his involvement with the Advisory Council as it reflects the core belief behind his philanthropy: “The strongest supporters of the School,” he says, “are those people who want to contribute to geologic education and respond to the way the School is being run.”

An author or co-author of approximately 70 scientific papers, Tim attributes much of his professional success to his ability to identify rocks. “I have spent most of my life analyzing rocks,” he states, “and I know the importance of understanding a rock before you do the analysis.” It is Tim’s hope that the award will encourage all students to become competent with all manners of rocks.

Bob and Earle are honored and grateful to Tim for creating this endowment in their names, for examining hand specimens and thin sections have been the basis for their lifetimes’ work. They realize, however, that while these techniques remain the fastest way to obtain the most information on the origin of a rock for the least amount of money, the advent of more powerful computer-based analytical tools has resulted in a decreased interest in using such traditional methodologies. It is Bob’s wish that the endowment “helps to restore old fashion virtues of being able to look at rocks and understand what’s going on.” “My hope,” echoes Earle, “is that it results in a strong appreciation for the use of a hand-lens and thin sections.”

Update, April 2019:

Earle McBride is now  Professor Emeritus. E.F. Folk passed away in June of 2018. Roger Denison passed away in July, 2016. He is survived by his wife and family.


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