The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

Brent Dalrymple Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

August 28, 2013


Gary Brent Dalrymple was born in 1937 in Alhambra, California. He received his A. B. from Occidental College in 1959 with a major in geology and his Ph. D. in geology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963. He served for thirty-one years as a Research Geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California. In 1994 he moved to Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, to become a Professor of Oceanography and Dean of the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. He remained at OSU until his retirement in 2001.

Dalrymple's primary research interests include the development and improvement of isotopic dating techniques and their application to geomagnetic field behavior, the evolution of volcanoes and the Pacific sea floor, the early history of the Moon, and various aspects of the Pleistocene history of the western United States. His most noteworthy accomplishments include the determination of the time scale of reversals of the Earth's magnetic field for the past four million years - a research effort done with colleagues Allan Cox and Richard Doell that led to the Theory of Plate Tectonics - and the demonstration that the Hawaiian-Emperor volcanic chain was formed by motion of the Pacific Plate over a fixed source of lava in Earth's mantle. His most recent research interests include the early impact history of the Moon, especially the timing of the large impactors that created the prominent lunar basins, and the thermal history of the Geysers geothermal field in northern California.

Dalrymple has been active for more than twenty years in speaking out against the introduction of the religious tenets of young-Earth creationism in textbooks and class curricula. His activities in this regard include public lectures, written refutations of "creation science," and affiliation with the National Center for Science Education. In 1981 he was one of four scientists called by the ACLU to testify in the Arkansas "creationism" trial (McLean vs Arkansas), held in the Federal District Court in Little Rock. He was also involved on behalf of the ACLU in the Louisiana lawsuit (Edwards vs Aguillard) that resulted in the overturning and banning, as unconstitutional, of all "equal-time for creationism" laws by the United States Supreme Court.

In 1975 he was elected a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, an honor accorded only 0.1% of the membership each year; he served as President of AGU from 1990 to 1992. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1992 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, serving as Chair of the Geology Section of the NAS from 1997 to 2000. Dalrymple is also a Fellow of the Geological Society of America and received the Society's Public Service Award in 2001. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Occidental College in 1993. In March 2005 he was awarded the 2003 National Medal of Science by President George W. Bush.