Feature

Rock of Ages

Warren Hamilton is a tiny elderly fellow with a head of thin, white hair and a severe expression on his face. He says things such as, "I've studied enough to know when I'm right and when I'm wrong. Everybody else is wrong."

October 2002

He’s not a crackpot. Actually Warren Hamilton is a visionary at the Colorado School of Mines. A career geologist, he spent four decades with the U.S. Geological Survey and served visiting professorships at places such as Yale, Cal Tech, Amsterdam University, and Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego. At 77, in semiretirement at Mines, he travels the globe for geology conferences and has enough energy and inclination to go on camping trips with undergraduates.

At an institution of applied geology such as the Colorado School of Mines, Hamilton is a very visible academic and the only faculty member elected to the National Academy of Sciences, an honor he received in 1989. (The University of Colorado has 18 members.) In 1989 he also received the Penrose Medal, the highest award in the world of geology.

But none of those successes give him as much obvious pleasure as talking about Earth. When he says “the hot gooey mantle,” his face lights up and his hands dance. This mantle business has been the focus of his extraordinary career as a geologist, and he has a new idea – a theory to supplant the prevailing notion of how and why the Earth’s crust moves the way it does.