James B. Macelwane Medal, acceptance speech

Citation and acceptance as published in EOS (pdf)

When the beige AGU envelope arrived in February, I eagerly opened it, expecting to read yet another letter thanking me in advance for agreeing to serve on some vitally important AGU committee. Learning that I was selected to receive the Macelwane medal was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. It is indeed a honor to accept this recognition, and I share the honor (but not the medal) with all my collaborators because our science, perhaps more than ever before, is a cooperative venture.

My teachers, collaborators, and even some administrators, played a key role in making me stand up here. This is not the place or time to thank everyone by name, but I do want to point out the vital role that unselfish mentoring by others played in my professional development. My first exposure to scientific research, beginning in junior high school and continuing through high school, was provided by the Macoun Field Naturalist Club at the Natural History Museum in Ottawa. Academic and government scientists, in particular Stephen Darbyshire, spent evenings and weekends helping us explore and appreciate the natural world. In fact, my first two written scientific contributions (see below) were based on these experiences. As an undergraduate physics major, I quickly became captivated by the unsolved and yet strangely understandable problems in the geophysical sciences. And I was fortunate that my undergraduate advisor Jafar Arkani-Hamed was willing to spend so much time helping an undergraduate learn how to write and debug code, and ultimately how to do research. My graduate advisors, Rick O'Connell and Howard Stone taught me to appreciate rigor. My postdoc advisor, Raymond Jeanloz, introduced me to the human side of science. And, once I found a job, Kathy Cashman, Dana Johnson, and my wife Susan, provided models for how to maintain balance in an academic life.

large part of my academic life involves teaching. I am often asked by students and their parents which part of my job do I like better: research or teaching? I think this question conveys a misunderstanding of our responsibilities as faculty members, and perhaps reflects our collective shortcomings in communicating with our students and the public. I have always found that my involvement in research is essential in order to convey the excitement of our field and to thoughtfully answer questions. I am not ashamed to admit that a large fraction of my research ideas and new research directions have grown out of teaching and questions from perceptive students. Most importantly, it is through interactions with students that I am forced to understand and appreciate our science. For this reason, I am especially grateful to my 16 different student coauthors who have given me the opportunity to share the joys of discovery and the pain of disappointment. Their enthusiasm and questioning continually remind me that while much has been learned, there is much more to be discovered.

I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to study the Earth and other planets. As my 4-year old son Max explained to his kindergarten teacher on the morning I wrote this acceptance, ``daddy studies rocks and red hot lava, that is pretty cool, but not as cool as being a paleontologist''.

Darbyshire, S. J., Letourneau, A., & M. Manga (1984) A Macoun Field Club trip to Kettle Island, Trail & Landscape, vol. 18: 228-232.
Letourneau, A., Manga, M., Koepke, D., Chippindale, P., & S.J. Darbyshire, (1983) A Macoun Field Club trip to Mer Bleue, Trail & Landscape, vol. 17: 229-231.

Michael at the AGU award ceremony

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