Ursula B. Marvin (1921–2018)


Born in Bradford, Vt., mineralogist, meteoriticist, polymath, and Antarctic adventurer Ursula Marvin graduated in 1943 from Tufts College in Medford, Mass. Relatively than a bachelor’s diploma in geology, which she would have most well-liked, Ursula earned one in historical past as a result of her adviser thought geology was an unsuitable career for a girl. Nonetheless, Ursula had amassed sufficient undergraduate science credit to be accepted right into a geology graduate program at Radcliffe School, the place she acquired a grasp’s diploma in 1946. She went on to review for her doctorate at Harvard College, the place she met and married fellow pupil Thomas C. Marvin in 1952. She acquired her Ph.D. in 1969, however earlier than that, Ursula and Tom had been recruited by Union Carbide Company to prospect for manganese ore in Portuguese Angola and Brazil.

In 1958, Ursula returned to Harvard to review below Clifford Frondel, till Fred Whipple, director of the close by (roughly 1 kilometer away) Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), requested her to hitch the observatory to supply mineralogical assist to isotope physicist Edward Fireman. She accepted a civil service place at SAO in 1961. The observatory’s satellite-tracking program at the moment knowledgeable the science of geodesy and reawakened curiosity within the idea of continental drift, a subject about which Ursula wrote a 1973 e-book entitled Continental Drift: The Evolution of a Idea.

Analyzing Apollo 11 Moon Rock Fragments

Within the 1960s, as properly, NASA invited appropriately skilled scientists to submit proposals to review the lunar samples that they anticipated the astronauts of the Apollo missions to gather. Ursula equipped the mineralogical and X-ray diffraction experience for what turned a profitable proposal by John Wooden’s SAO analysis group. Starting in 1969, the SAO staff made inhabitants research of small (1- to 2-millimeter) rock fragments within the regolith pattern that the Apollo 11 astronauts collected. The analysts found an surprising element of white anorthosite-rich lithologies that will need to have been derived from the high-albedo lunar crustal highlands. From this discovering, they concluded that magmatic fractionation of anorthosite will need to have occurred in an early Moon that was largely or wholly melted.

Ursula spent a lot of the Apollo program on the NASA Manned Spacecraft Heart (recognized at this time because the Johnson Area Heart) in Houston, Texas, together with her arms in a glove field and her eyes socketed to a binocular microscope. She was collaborating within the house company’s Lunar Pattern Preliminary Examination Staff, dictating as a lot in regards to the minerals within the bigger lunar rock samples as may very well be discovered by eyeballing them.

Antarctic Meteorite Hunts
Ursula Marvin displays her Antarctic gear before the 1978 meteorite hunt.Ursula Marvin shows her Antarctic gear earlier than the 1978 meteorite hunt. Credit score: Smithsonian Establishment Archives, #96-1022

An avid traveler, Ursula participated in lots of conferences, colloquia, and workshops; she was by no means happier than when climbing right into a fuselage. She enlisted in William Cassidy’s Nationwide Science Basis program to seek for fallen meteorites on the Antarctic ice cap and spent the 1978–1979 and 1981–1982 austral summer season area seasons there, sleeping in a tent on the ice and, with others, buzzing throughout it on snowmobiles on the lookout for black meteorites within the white snow. This ended when she slipped on the ice and fell, breaking her leg and requiring an airlift again to civilization. Marvin Nunatak is a peak in Antarctica named for her. (The Worldwide Astronomical Union additionally named asteroid 4309 Marvin for her.)

At SAO, consummate feminist Ursula headed the ladies’s program at a time when the phrase “chairman” developed to “chair.” Off-hours, she hosted a protracted sequence of Meteorite Dialogue Group and Could winefest dinners on the observatory, the latter that includes Rhine wine infused with candy woodruff lovingly grown by Robert Ogilvie.

Instructor, Trustee, Historian

Ursula received a historical past of geology award from the Geological Society of America and served as president of the Meteoritical Society. She taught at Harvard and Tufts and was a trustee of Tufts College for 10 years.

Within the final years of her profession, Ursula targeted on the historical past of science.Within the final years of her profession, Ursula targeted on the historical past of science, thus finishing a circle to the historical past diploma that Tufts College awarded her in 1943. She retired from SAO in 1998.

Her husband, Tom Marvin, died in 2012, and Ursula, aged 96, ended her years on the Newbury Courtroom senior dwelling neighborhood in Harmony, Mass. She is survived by a niece, Gayl Bailey Heinz, in Palm Seaside Gardens, Fla.

—John Wooden (e mail: [email protected]), Harvard-Smithsonian Heart for Astrophysics (retired), Cambridge, Mass.

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