Professor George Luther, Recipient of the Geochemical Society's 2004 Clair C. Patterson Award
In recognition of “his innovative research in environmental geochemistry,” UD marine chemist George Luther received the 2004 Clair C. Patterson Award at the Geochemical Society’s annual meeting on June 7 in Copenhagen, Denmark. It included a certificate, medal, and honorarium.
The award is named for the late Clair C. Patterson, a renowned geochemist from the California Institute of Technology. In addition to determining the Earth’s age as approximately 4.6 billion years old, Patterson raised public awareness of the pervasiveness of lead from human sources in the environment and its risks to human health, spurring the development of unleaded gasoline and lead-free paints.
Researchers from Canada, Europe, and the United States nominated Luther for the award, highlighting his “great talent in electrochemistry” and his development of new instrumentation to increase scientific understanding of the complex chemical oxidation and reduction processes that occur in ecosystems ranging from freshwater lakes to deep-sea hydrothermal vents.
With funding from the Delaware Sea Grant College Program and the National Science Foundation, Luther has pioneered the development of gold-tipped electrode sensors that can be used in both marine and freshwater environments to rapidly detect a host of chemical compounds that serve as key indicators of environmental health.
Luther has used the sensor to determine the cause of fish kills that have occurred in Torquay Canal and Bald Eagle Creek in Delaware. He eventually hopes to deploy the device from lighthouses in the Delaware Bay as part of a national ocean observing system.
The novel tool also has been adapted for use in the Black Sea, where Luther and his research team have used it to explore the chemistry of the nearly landlocked waterway, which contains the largest concentration of poisonous hydrogen sulfide in the world.
In another extreme environment — hydrothermal vents nearly 2 miles deep in the Pacific Ocean — the sensor is helping scientists search out heat-loving microbes. These microbes, believed to be among the oldest life forms on Earth, hold promise as biocatalysts in high-temperature industrial applications such as food processing and drug manufacturing.
Luther has been on the faculty of the UD College of Marine Studies since 1986 and was named the Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Marine Studies in 2000. He has published more than 165 scientific articles, advised 30 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and served as the college’s associate dean.
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences appointed Luther to a five-year term on the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. The committee’s goals are to foster global interaction among the research community on issues ranging from climate change to the sustainability of freshwater resources, and to promote advances in geological sciences and technology at the international level.
He also is editor-in-chief of Aquatic Geochemistry, associate editor of Marine Chemistry and Geochemical Transactions, and a member of the geochemical editorial board of John Wiley & Sons, a major publisher of scientific and technical information.