Wise, Donald U. (earth scientist)

(1931- ) American Structural Geologist

Most geologists have one or two areas of specialization at which they excel. This is not true for Don Wise. He dabbles in many different aspects of geology, generally related to structural geology, and yet he never fails to make an impact in each. His apparent motto is “Variety is the spice of geology.” His regional geology studies have concentrated on the Pennsylvania Piedmont of the Appalachian orogen and the Beartooth Mountains in Wyoming and Montana in the middle Rocky Mountains. He studies small details on the scale of an outcrop, including cleavages, fractures, and folds for both of these areas and publishes these results.

Wise is well known for his work on planetary geology. His first foray into this field was a wild hypothesis that the Moon may have been derived from the Earth by splitting away during the formation of the Earth’s core, as summarized in his paper, “Origin of the Moon from the Earth, Some New Mechanisms and Comparisons.” At least it was wild at the time. Now it appears as a possible mode of formation in many introductory textbooks. He studied cratering on the Moon as well as its planetary architecture. Wise then moved on to study Mars. He and colleague Gerhart Neukum devised a method of extending lunar cratering densities to obtain the time scale for Mars in the paper “Mars: A Standard Crater Curve and Possible New Time Scale.” Based upon these dates and photo interpretation of images obtained from Martian orbiters, he proposed a model for the gross tectonics of Mars. This model involves an early convection cell that ingested the crust from the northern lowland third of the planet to produce the great Tharsis Bulge and its giant volcanoes. It was also controversial.

Wise may be best known for his work on fractures and lineaments. He developed methods for the statistical evaluation of fractures and lineaments on the outcrop, on maps, on aerial photographs and on satellite images. His paper “Topographic Lineament Swarms: Clues to their Origin from Domain Analysis of Italy” includes much of this work. He even developed inversion techniques to determine the stress field that produced fracture sets. This work was done on several areas in New England as well as Kentucky, Wyoming, Italy, and other planets. Wise also worked regional problems in Italy and New Zealand. More recently he has taken on creation-ism and even written a paper called “Creationism’s Geologic Time Scale.”

Don Wise was born on April 21, 1931, in Reading, Pennsylvania. He spent his youth in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. He attended Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor of science degree in geology in 1953. He earned a master of science degree from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, in geology in 1955. Wise then moved back to the East Coast to continue his graduate studies at Princeton University, New Jersey, where he earned a Ph.D. in geology in 1957. Upon graduation, he joined the faculty at his alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College. Don Wise was married in 1965; he and his wife have two children. In 1968, he became the chief scientist and deputy director of the lunar exploration office of NASA in Washington, D.C., where he served through the first lunar landing. In 1969, Wise joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he remained until his retirement in 1993. He served as department head from 1984 to 1988. Wise was a visiting scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1975, at the University of Rome, Italy, in 1976, and at Canterbury University in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1988-1989. In addition to being professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Wise is also currently a research associate at Franklin and Marshall College.

Donald Wise has led a productive career. He is an author of more than 50 articles in international journals, professional volumes, and governmental reports. Several of these papers are seminal studies on multiple folding terminology, fracture systems, the regional geology of Wyoming-Montana, Mesozoic basins of New England, regional tectonics of the Pennsylvania Piedmont, and planetary geology of the Moon and Mars. In recognition of his contributions to geology, Wise was awarded the Career Contribution Award from the structure and tectonics division of the Geological Society of America in 2001.

Wise has also performed significant service to the profession. He was the founding chair of the structure and tectonics division of the Geological Society of America, as well as the chair of the planetary geology division. He was a consultant for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and various geotechnical, oil, and power companies.

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