2019 Laurence L. Sloss Award

Presented to Marjorie Chan

Marjorie Chan

Marjorie Chan
University of Utah


Citation by Brenda B. Bowen

Marjorie A. Chan, Distinguished Professor of Geology and Geophysics, has served as a visionary mentor, enthusiastic educator, generous administrator, tireless advocate for the sedimentary geoscience community, and has been a member of GSA for 40 years.  Her passion for field-based sedimentary geology passes down to thousands of students she mentored through interdisciplinary research projects, sedimentology coursework, and community field trips.  Her research is grounded in fundamental geologic observation--detailed field description, mapping, stratigraphy, structure, and petrography.  She taught me that field photos are one of our most important types of data and worked to discover ways to better archive and share such data across the geoscience community. Her extraordinary field-based relationship with the Mesozoic strata on the Colorado Plateau grew through many hundreds of days of geologic field adventures exploring remote outcrops; observations that advance our understanding of eolian processes, diagenesis, iron geochemistry, and past water-related processes that affect both Earth and Mars. She was an early supporter of geoconservation and has encouraged integration of computer technology for sedimentary geology.  Within GSA, she initiated the On To the Future program encouraging student diversity, was the 2014 GSA Distinguished International Lecturer, and served in several leadership positions. She was the first female faculty member to join the University of Utah Geology and Geophysics department and the first female chair of any STEM department at the University.  She was a leader in creating our exquisite departmental home, the award-winning Frederic A. Sutton Building, that grew from her unique and powerful vision of what a geology building could be--a showcase of what earth sciences are. Thank you, Margie!  Congratulations on being named the 2019 recipient of the Laurence L. Sloss Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the interdisciplinary field of sedimentary geology.


Response by Marjorie Chan

I am truly pleased to be a recipient of the Laurence L. Sloss award, named for the legendary “rock star” Larry Sloss. Although I didn’t know Larry personally, I heard many stories of him as a graduate student. I was impressed how he recognized unconformity-bounded packages of strata initiating the sequence stratigraphy revolution.  Like working on a puzzle, he could see what pieces were needed to put together the framework, helping many others to also complete the picture.

Puzzles, mysteries, and the wonder of the world around me are what drew me into geology.  I loved being outside and thinking about things from atomic scales up to tectonic scales.  Two decades ago I was intrigued with diagenetic iron concretions, but I never dreamed it might take me to a planetary scale.  Science is serendipitous, and with the 2004 landing of NASA’s rover Opportunity, I found myself examining many analog applications of rocks in southern Utah to sedimentary deposits on Mars. I’ve been happily exploring the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone since then, as you’d be surprised at how many good stories there are in the life of that ancient desert!  I’ve had many bright and energetic undergraduate students that have challenged and often pleasantly surprised me.  But one of the greatest honors is to have been able to supervise and learn from terrific graduate students who have gone on to their own incredible adventures.

Geologic detective skills have played an important role in my science as well as my hobby of yard sales.  Sleuthing has helped me connect important native and historical objects to museums and private collections.  There’s always satisfaction in a happy ending and having solved a mystery.

GSA has greatly enriched my professional and personal life.  I had the travel year of a lifetime as the 2014 GSA International lecturer where I found common bonds and met amazing students and professionals while giving over 50 lectures in Asia, Australia, and Europe.  This wonderful experience opened other doors to South America and all over North America.  As an initiator of GSA’s On To the Future program, I’ve especially enjoyed seeing many diverse students welcomed into our community.

Looking back, leaders like Larry Sloss paved the way for sedimentary geologists, as did a few women pioneers. I was very fortunate to have generous mentors all along my career path.  My most influential mentor was my Ph.D. advisor, the late Robert H. Dott, Jr.,  a true gentleman of geology.  My father first instilled the love of science in me, and I’ve been allowed to nurture that in my career with my supportive husband and two sons. 

Thank you for this kind honor!