Geology was recognized as a separate study when George Ide Chace was appointed professor of chemistry, physiology, and geology in 1836. Edward L. Pierce 1850 recalled “the excursion to Cumberland and vicinity, taken annually by the class in geology, in which he (Chace) explained rare specimens gathered from the mines, - the day closing with an entertainment at his house.”
The popularity of geology as a study was shown when the class of 1871, by some circumstance deprived of the usual course in junior year, contrived to have Professor Chace deliver a series of lectures for them. The students derived great benefit from this true “elective” course, to which they gave great attention, although they were obliged neither to recite nor be examined. The next year Chace was assigned to give a course in physical geography and geology to the junior class. Alpheus Spring Packard became professor of zoology and geology in 1878 and was succeeded at his death in 1905 by Charles Wilson Brown, who set up a separate Department of Geology in the basement of Sayles Hall. There also in 1912 the work of the State Natural Resources Survey, of which Professor Brown was the director, was carried on. The department had only two chairmen in its first 55 years, Professor Brown from its beginning in 1905, and from 1941 to 1960 Alonzo Quinn, who had joined the department in 1929. A student organization called “Pick and Hammer Club” existed in the 1930s to conduct field trips and bring prominent speakers in the field of geology to the campus. Oceanography was introduced at Brown in 1949 and taught by Visiting Professor Raymond B. Montgomery until 1954.
F. Donald Eckelmann came in 1957 and became chairman in 1961. By 1960 other young faculty, Léo Laporte, Bruno Giletti, and Thomas Mutch, had been recruited. William Chapple and Richard Yund came in 1961. The first Ph.D. in the Geology Department was awarded in 1964. Robley Matthews joined the staff in 1964, David G. Harkrider in 1965, Michael J. Chinnery in 1966, and John Imbrie in 1967. Imbrie, an expert on global climate, introduced a course named “Introduction to the Ocean,” a course for non-concentrators.” Paul C. Hess, and John F. Hermance came in 1968.
In the middle 1960s the department acquired a new name. “Geology” no longer described the work of geophysicist Harkrider, or structural geologist Chapple, or geochemist Giletti. “Earth sciences,” as an alternative was rejected, because it would not cover Mutch’s investigation of geologic material from space. So the name of the department was changed to “Department of Geological Sciences.” The department needed a new building, and architect I. M. Pei was hired in 1964 to design one, but it was not built. Instead the department acquired the use of two more floors of Rhode Island Hall and the Lincoln Field Building. By the time the new Geology-Chemistry Research Building was occupied in 1982 there were eighteen faculty members, about fifty graduate students and several postdoctoral fellows.
In 1974 the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation offered $500,000 for a chair of oceanography, provided the University would raise $250,000. By 1976 the funds were in hand and John Imbrie was the first Doherty Professor of Oceanography, and upon his retirement in 1990 was succeeded by Warren Prell. In the spring of 1986 Professor Prell, led a scientific team composed mostly of members of the department on a cruise aboard the Research Vessel Robert D. Conrad to search for evidence of past changes in the Indian Ocean monsoon climate system. Since 1990 Professor Donald Forsyth has led three research cruises to map the seafloor in the Pacific Ocean near Easter Island. Projects in which members of the department are involved are CLIMAP (Climate/Long Range Investigation Map and Predications), SPECMAP (mapping spectra components of ice-age climate), and COHMAP (Cooperative Holocene Mapping Project), which is a consortium of scientists at Brown, Columbia, and the Universities of Minnesota, Oregon, and Wisconsin.
In the spring of 1981 the Brown Regional Planetary Data Center was opened at the Sciences Library and dedicated to the memory of Thomas A. Mutch, who formed Brown’s planetary geology group of faculty members and graduate students who study the surfaces of planets. Mutch wrote a book on the geology of Mars and oversaw the imaging team for the Viking I and II missions to Mars in 1976. It was his idea to develop regional centers where materials on the NASA space missions could be consulted. James Head was named director of the Data Center. The Planetary Data Center moved into Lincoln Field Building in 1984, and Associate Professor Peter Schultz assumed the directorship that year. Since 1984, Associate Professsor Carle Pieters has been the Science Manager of the Reflective Experiment Laboratory (RELAB), a multi-user NASA facility at Brown RELAB was rededicated in 1992 after major renovations.
Brown has been involved in an informal exchange with the Soviet Union since Professor James Head went to Moscow in 1973 to a space science meeting. In 1985 a five-year agreement for scientific cooperation was signed by Brown and the USSR’s Vernadsky Institute of Geochemistry and Analytic Chemistry. Brown also entered an agreement with the Soviet Institute for Space Research. The institutions collaborate on research and since 1984 have held twice yearly “microsymposia,” attended by scientists from both countries at Brown in the spring and in the Soviet Union in late summer.
After Alonzo Quinn, the department chairmen have been F. Donald Eckelmann, Thomas A. Mutch, Robley K. Matthews, Bruno Giletti, Paul C. Hess, Malcolm Rutherford, and Warren Prell. Nineteen faculty members and about fifty graduate students involved in programs in geochemistry, petrology, mineralogy, geophysics, structural geology, planetary geosciences, paleoceanography, stratigraphy, paleoclimatology, and palynology.