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Five Questions with Ed Boyle

Ed Boyle

Election into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences is considered one of the highest honors an American scientist can receive. This past April, NAS elected 72 new members, including Edward A. Boyle, Professor of Ocean Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Ed is a longtime member of the Geochemical Society and past recipient of the 2000 C.C. Patterson Award. With his induction, 34 current or former GS members are members of the NAS. Last month, Geochemical News asked Ed a few questions via regarding his newest honor. Ed responded via email from sea aboard the first GEOTRACES cruise. GEOTRACES is an international program to determine the global-scale distributions of key trace elements and trace element isotopes—see the October 2003 issue of Geochemical News for a feature article. At the time of his response, Ed was in the western North Atlantic Ocean, near Bermuda.

GN: What are you doing on the GEOTRACES cruise?

EB: This cruise is a sampling and analytical technique intercomparison effort, in order to get all of the international groups agreed about how to obtain a globally consistent data set.

GN: How did it feel when you were notified of your nomination into NAS?

EB: I was surprised (I didn’t even know that I was being considered) and of course I was pleased with the recognition. It took awhile for it to sink in that it was real.

GN: How does this honor compare to receiving the 2000 Patterson Award?

EB: The Patterson Medal told me that my work was appreciated by a community of people who do related research and are familiar with what I do. The NAS fellowship indicates that a broader community of scientists also recognizes value in my scientific work.

GN: The role of the NAS is to advise the U.S. government on a wide range of national issues. What issues will you be most qualified to address? For which national issues do you think the NAS has an urgent obligation to advise the government?

EB: Obviously: climate change, ocean acidification, fisheries, and related issues. The extent of human impacts on local, regional, and planetary chemistry (and its impact on life) is also important. Also, how important the overall scientific enterprise is to the nation and to humanity, and why it must be supported.

GN: How has the landscape of the field of geochemistry changed over the course of your career? With many environmental issues (e.g. climate change) receiving increased media coverage in recent years, what scientific role do you see geochemists serving in the future? Do you have any advice for students studying geochemistry?

EB: When I was a student, you could get to know almost everyone in the field, including the top figures, by face and name (and most of them would know who you were as well). Now, when you go to a Goldschmidt meeting you are lucky to recognize a small fraction of the people there. Growth obviously indicates that we are valued, but I do miss the familiarity and smaller scale of our scientific meetings in the past. The role of scientists including geochemists is to focus on the most important unknowns in our field, to fill in the holes surrounding the things we know, and explore the frontiers of the unknown. As we find interesting things, we should communicate these to the public, and respond to public concerns by explaining what we know (and admitting what we don’t know).