George Luther, Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Marine Studies, has received an honorary professorship at the School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences at Cardiff University in Wales. His appointment, which began on January 1, is for a period of five years.
As an honorary professor, Luther will continue his collaboration with David Rickard, professor of geochemistry, on metal-sulfur geochemistry. Their partnership began in 1993 and has resulted in the publication of one to two papers a year in peer-reviewed journals. Based on his research efforts with Rickard, the University of Cardiff awarded Luther with the title of Distinguished Visiting Fellow in 1996.
Luther and Rickard’s research focuses on the geochemical interactions that occur when metal-sulfur compounds are exposed to oxic (oxygenated) and anoxic (absence of oxygen) conditions. These interactions are crucial in many biological and industrial processes.
“Metal-sulfur compounds play a role in the chemical reactions that occur at hydrothermal vent sites and in the marine sediments and waters of anoxic basins like the Black Sea,” says Luther. “Even in the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware’s Inland Bays, the low oxygen conditions that occur in the late summer enhance the formation of these compounds in the water and sediments.”
Luther adds that both metals and sulfides are toxic to most living organisms. However, the compounds that Luther and Rickard have detected bind together very strongly. As a result, the metal detoxifies the sulfide, and the sulfide detoxifies the metal, which is good for our rivers, lakes, estuaries, and bays.
With funding from the Delaware Sea Grant College Program and the National Science Foundation, Luther has developed instrumentation that makes field measurements of various chemical compounds. He will bring this technology and his expertise in sulfur chemistry to the University of Cardiff, where a state-of-the-art laboratory can mimic various anoxic environments. Together, the scientists hope to increase the understanding of the complex chemical reactions that are driven by metal-sulfur compounds.
“Dr. Luther is a leading international marine chemist, who has been a regular visitor to Cardiff,” says Dianne Edwards, professor and head of the School of Earth, Ocean and Planetary Sciences. “Cardiff researchers have visited Dr. Luther’s laboratory regularly. The cooperation between the two groups has contributed to our school being formally rated as a leading international research center in the Earth sciences and, ultimately, to the recognition of Cardiff University as a leading UK research university.
“The success of the research cooperation between the two institutes has led to the investigation of possible future teaching cooperation,” Edwards adds. “I look forward to continuing collaboration with Dr. Luther with great anticipation.”
Closer to home, in a project funded by Delaware Sea Grant, Luther is measuring the water quality on a continuous basis in a “deep hole” in Torquay Canal where major fish kills have occurred. In addition, he is using remote-controlled sensors to determine whether the water quality of coastal waters can be monitored on a long-term basis.
A member of UD’s faculty since 1986, Luther has served as associate dean, advised 30 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, and published more than 165 journal articles, reports, and book chapters. He is frequently invited to speak at universities in the United States and abroad. In 2004, the Geo-chemical Society presented Luther with the Clair C. Patterson Award for “his innovative research in environmental geochemistry.”
Luther is editor-in-chief of Aquatic Geochemistry, associate editor of the research journals 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. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences appointed him to the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Geodesy and Geo-physics, a committee dedicated to fostering global interaction among the scientific research community.