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Research School of Earth Sciences

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					                        Research School of Earth Sciences
Introduction

The Research School of Earth Sciences is Australia’s premier centre for basic research in
the Earth Sciences. Its role is to conduct research at the highest international level, and to
take a leadership role in defining new directions in geophysics and geochemistry –
particularly those that have relevance to the geologic setting and needs of Australia,

Structure

Major Disciplines

Earth Sciences
Research Directions

   •   Earth Chemistry: Utilises elemental and isotopic abundances to examine the
       processes affecting the earth and solar system;
   •   Earth Physics: Investigates the structure and dynamics of the Earth using a range
       of advanced physical and mathematical techniques;
   •   Earth Materials: Focuses on the interrelated chemical and physical behaviour of
       rocks and minerals under geological conditions using state-of-the-art facilities for
       characterisation and mechanical testing, with the goal of understanding the
       structure and composition of the Earth;
   •   Earth Environment: Specialises in revealing high-resolution environmental
       records.

History

The Research School of Earth Sciences (RSES) has it origin in the Department of
Geophysics, which was an original department of the Research School of Physical
Sciences (RSPhysS), in turn one of the founding in the Institute of Advanced Studies of
the Australian National University. The appointment of Professor J.C. Jaeger, the
foundation professor of Geophysics at ANU and the first professorial appointment in
geophysics in Australia, commenced on 1st January 1952.

The initial topics covered by the Department involved the solid Earth, notably the physics
of the crust and interior of the Earth. Studies in petrology and of phase transformations
which take place under high pressure led to strengths developing in geochemistry; in
1964 the name of the department was expanded to the Department of Geophysics and
Geochemistry. Developments in dating rocks by radioactive methods complemented the
important work in palaeomagnetism achieved at that time; together, these pursuits made
major contributions to the remarkable developments of Plate Tectonics, which
revolutionised earth sciences in the latter half of he 20th century. Another highlight at the
end of the 1960s was the return to Earth of samples from the Moon, and work on some of
these at the department.

In 1973 the Department ceased to be part of RSPhysS, and became the new RSES, with
A.L. Hales as first director. Growth has continued since that time, with research efforts
continually moving into new fields opened by experimental and theoretical
developments, instrumental possibilities (including computing), and the needs of society.
RSES has been, from the start, non-departmental, with research groups set up less
formally, making scientific interactions easier between scientists right across the school.
That tradition has continued, through with the growth that has ensued, the school is now
grouped for administrative purposes into the four main areas of Earth Chemistry, Earth
Physics, Earth Materials and Earth Environment.

Geophysics was initially in a set of buildings at the western end of the Acton peninsula,
first looking out onto the Canberra racecourse, and then onto Lake Burley Griffin as it
filled in the early 1960s. By the end of that decade the Department of Geophysics and
Geochemistry had moved to new buildings to the east, at a high point on the ridge of the
peninsula, where Canberra Hospital had been in the period 1914-1943. Some of the
hospital buildings, in the typical country-hospital weatherboard style of the early 20th
century, are preserved in the RSES complex.

A period-piece rock-crushing mill in the RSES grounds was donated by Professor Jaeger,
and comes from an old gold mine in the Canberra area. It dates from the late 19th or early
20th century, however there are plans to donate this piece to the gold mining museum at
Bredbo. The present RSES buildings are known throughout the world, both for their
facilities, and (not least) for the magnificent views they afford across the lake to the
Brindabella Mountains, snow-capped in winter.

The Research

   •   Earth Chemistry: Planetary science; early earth; Gondwana formation and
       evolution; noble gas analysis; mountain building; ore systems.
   •   Earth Physics: Geophysical fluid dynamics; geodynamics, seismology and
       geomagnetism; computational geophysics.
   •   Earth Materials: Making of terrestrial planets; nature of Earth’s upper mantle;
       fluid flow and fault mechanics in the continental crust; oxidation state and metal
       ions; evolution of the Alpine-Himalayan chain; synthesis of Australian geology.
   •   Earth Environment: Climate change; human impact; landscape and soil
       evolution.

Today and the Future

RSES has recently joined with the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics to
create a joint institute to study the fundamental nature of planetary systems. RSES is also
part of a recent initiative to establish as ANU a BSc in Marine Science. Plans are under
consideration for the Department of Earth and Marine Science, ANU, to co-locate with
RSES.

A number of equipment developments, made at RSES, have been in demand elsewhere,
and have been manufactured by Australian Scientific Instruments and supplied to other
laboratories, both nationally and overseas. These include, notably, the Sensitive High
Resolution Ion Microprobe (SHRIMP), and the Paterson testing machine for
experimental rock mechanics. Other examples are the Synroc strategy for radioactive
waste disposal, and novel ultrahard materials being manufactured by Ringwood
Superabrasives.

Members of the RSES take leading roles in many national and international scientific
organisations. Many major national and international scientific meetings in Earth
Sciences are held in Canberra, for example the Assembly of the International Union of
Geodesy and Geophysics, held at ANU in 1979.

Directors

   •   A.L. Hales: 1973 – 1978
   •   A.E. Ringwood: 1979 – 1983
   •   K. Lambeck: 1983 – 1992
   •   Acting Director B.L.N. Kennett: 1993
   •   D.H. Green: 1994 – 2001
   •   T.M. Harrison: 2002 – 2006
   •   Interim Director R.W. Griffiths: 2006
   •   B.L.N. Kennett: 2006-present

Awards

As an example of the overseas recognition of RSES success, a recent review listed the
following major international awards as being awarded to RSES scientists in the period
1995-2004:

   •   The Walter Bucher Medal and Norman Bowen Award of the American
       Geophysical Union.
   •   The Schlumberger Medal of the Mineralogical Society of London.
   •   The Prix International Georges Lemaitre of Louvain University, Belgium.
   •   The Murchison Medal of the Geological Society of London.
   •   The Alfred Wegener Medal of the European Union of Geosciences.

The same review noted that RSES has five Fellows of the Royal Society of London;
eleven Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science; ten Fellows of the American
Geophysical Union; five Honorary Fellows of the Geological Society of America; two
Associates of the Royal Astronomical Society, London; and one Foreign Member of the
Russian Academy of Science.
References

RSES Website: http://wwwrses.anu.edu.au

				
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