Brian J. Skinner

Eugene Higgins Professor of Geology and Geophysics

Brian SkinnerBrian Skinner, B.Sc. University of Adelaide, Ph.D. Harvard University, faculty member at Yale since 1966: You have made landmark contributions to mineralogy and economic geology, led the international geological community, and conveyed the excitement of geology to legions of students and the general public. Many of your scientific publications focused on the crystallographic and geochemical properties of the ore minerals that contain the valuable metals we use constantly in our everyday lives. But your contributions didn’t stop there; you have deepened our understanding of the geology of the ocean floor, the surface of the Moon, the Australian outback, and nearly everywhere else in between. Indeed, your work has been so fundamental that a mineral—Skinnerite—was named in your honor.

You were promoted to chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics within a year of your arrival at Yale, a testament to your extraordinary interpersonal and leadership skills, which had been well honed at the U.S. Geological Survey. These skills, coupled with your world-class science, propelled you into decades of service to the international geological community at the very highest levels. Your terms as president of the Geological Society of America, the Geochemical Society, and the Society of Economic Geologists helped shape the geological sciences as we know them today. You were also highly influential as an editor of journals and books including Economic Geology, the leading journal in the field. As a teacher, you were widely known for your legendary Geology 110 class, where you taught a generation of undergraduates that geology was far more than just “rocks for jocks.” You were a caring and thoughtful mentor to dozens of undergraduate and graduate students who have now gone on to forge distinguished careers of their own in academia, government, and the private sector. Your presentation of geology—from the atomic structure of minerals to the movement of continents—was so engaging that you were filmed for the “Great Teachers Series” at Yale, long before the advent of online courses. And your pedagogical talents extended easily to writing. An author of more than a dozen texts now translated into six languages, you have used crisp, clear prose to make geological principles accessible to students across the globe.

But there is more. In 1977 you accompanied your wife, Catherine, to Jonathan Edwards College, where she was master, and for five years you helped her mentor Yale students in a very different environment from Geology, nurturing them in their social lives as well as their studies, and even feeding them in your home during the long days of the 1984 strike. You also brought your gruff charm and your Aussie wit to the JE common room where, happily, you and Cathy are still important contributors, helping to steward the college and keep the culture strong. Together you also informed and charmed many alumni on travels abroad, riveting them with your erudition and helping make the trips fun. As you step down now to some more relaxing days, the faculty wishes you a warm “ta and cheerio” and hopes and expects to see you as usual in all of your old Yale haunts.

Tribute Editor: Penelope Laurans