2021 Distinguished Geologic Career Award (MGPV Division)

Presented to Michael Brown

Michael Brown

Michael Brown
University of Maryland


Citation by Chris Yakymchuk, University of Waterloo

One cannot work in the field of metamorphic geology and not come across Mike Brown. Mike is internationally renowned for his comprehensive studies of migmatites and high- temperature metamorphic rocks from around the world and has shifted the paradigm of our understanding of secular change on Earth with his novel studies into paired metamorphic signatures of global tectonic systems. His numerous research contributions—that include field-based studies from each continent—are multidisciplinary, and routinely involve petrology, mineralogy, geochemistry, geochronology, and structural geology. Mike is a genuine multidisciplinary scientist.

A primary theme of Mike’s research is the petrogenesis of migmatites and the granite– migmatite connection. The early work of experimental petrologists was highlighted by and enhanced by Mike using field-based observations (starting in Brittany and evolving to migmatites from all over the world) and petrology, which has led to a general scientific consensus that granites are primarily derived from high-temperature metamorphism and partial melting of rocks in the deep crust. It is not an exaggeration to state that establishing the migmatite–granite connection—that we may for granted today—was a principal contribution of Mike Brown to our understanding of the chemical differentiation of Earth’s continents.

Mike’s second principal contribution bridged global tectonic processes with the metamorphic rock record through the hypothesis that paired metamorphism in orogenic belts is the hallmark of modern-style plate tectonics. Mike’s landmark papers on this subject are widely read, cited and have changed the focus in the early-Earth tectonics debate towards metamorphic petrology. Mike has kept metamorphic geology in the spotlight!

In addition to pushing the frontiers of knowledge with technical contributions to high-grade metamorphism and the petrological record of secular change, Mike is a regular contributor to highly-cited review articles that makes the detailed advances in our discipline accessible to researchers in other fields. Mike’s drive for high-quality science and his enjoyment of scientific discourse have strongly influenced the way many of us collect data and interpret results – we are all better scientists thanks to Mike Brown.

Mike has been a pillar of the metamorphic geology community for over 40 years. In addition to his scholarly contributions, Mike has convened scores of conference sessions,

2021 MGPV Division Distinguished Geological Career Award to Michael Brown: Citation, Page 2 of 2 organized numerous short courses and field trips, and he was the founding editor in 1982 for the Journal of Metamorphic Geology. Mike only recently stepped down from his editorial duties at the JMG after 36 years. The incredibly active Metamorphic Studies Group was founded by Mike in 1981 and it is still going strong.

In summary, Mike’s career has changed the course of metamorphic geology for the better. His field-based multifaceted studies of migmatites and secular change are game changers for Earth scientists. His service to our research community has substantially elevated the stature of metamorphic geology and his efforts have led to a well-organized and supportive community of new and old scientists to meet the metamorphic challenges of our future. Mike is a most deserving recipient of the Distinguished Geologic Career Award from the MGPV division of the GSA. Congratulations, Mike!


Response by Michael Brown

To begin, I thank the MGPV division of GSA for this Distinguished Geological Career Award. I am fully aware that there are many worth candidates for the limited number of awards in the geosciences, and I am humbled to receive this honor from my peer division in one of the oldest geological societies. In accepting the award, I acknowledge my nominator Chris Yakymchuk, the support group of Julie Baldwin, Tim Johnson and Dick White, and Donna Whitney for nudging Chris in the first place. My thanks go to Chris, Julie and Mark Caddick for organizing a full-day session in my honor, and to the participants, especially the invited speakers. Also, I appreciate Chris' generous citation; although I continue to interact with students at CUG Wuhan, China, Chris was my last graduate student at Maryland. Finally, I thank my family who have supported me throughout my career, especially my wife Jenny—without her support the travel and fieldwork would have been impossible.

I began my career in the UK in 1972 as a Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, where I rose to Acting Head of Department, before moving in 1984 to Kingston University as Head of School. Then, in 1990, I moved laterally to become Chair of the Department of Geology in the University of Maryland, and, in doing so, successfully avoided becoming a Dean. In the end, I was a head or chair for 29 consecutive years. The job comprises interesting, less interesting and darn right tedious tasks, so the secret to success is to complete each efficiently and professionally; but the downside of success is reappointment after reappointment! Deans often remark that the job of chair is the worst of all in a university, because the chair gets s--- from both the bottom up and top down. However, unlike a dean, it is possible as chair to continue a program of research, even if the time for it is more limited. My solution was simply to have a smaller research group, so that my time with individual students, post-docs and long-term visitors was not compromised.

Metrics such as citations and h-indices are useful, but they cannot give the full measure of a person—that requires an evaluation of the content and significance of their publications, and of their other contributions. However, research articles have (mostly) fleeting value, not because they were not necessarily good in their time, but because science advances, leaving (most of) them behind by career's end. By contrast, human capital and, maybe, institutions that have benefitted from leadership should have lasting value. I am proud that my students and post-docs have successful careers, and the Department of Geology at Maryland has a firm foundation for continued success. These are my legacy!

To finish, this award is meaningful to those of us fortunate enough to receive it because it places an emphasis on multidisciplinary, field-based contributions—these have been the hallmark of my research. I have done fieldwork on every continent and worked in countless different countries with many diverse colleagues and students. I thank them all for helping to make my career so enjoyable.