Hargraves was internationally known for his broad geological perspective
Princeton NJ -- Robert Hargraves, a member of the Princeton geosciences faculty from 1961 to his retirement in 1994, died March 21 at age 74 from viral pneumonia brought on by complications from radiation and chemotherapy.
"All of us in the geosciences department had the highest regard for Rob as a scientist and a colleague," said Anthony Dahlen, chair of the department. "Through his broad geological perspective, he made many important contributions to science, and we are saddened that his career was tragically shortened."
The scope of his work goes back to the start of his career in South Africa, where the gold and diamond resources allowed him to achieve insights to the origins of some of Earth's oldest rocks.
Hargraves, who was born in Durban, Natal, South Africa, received his bachelor's degree in geology and chemistry from Natal University College in 1948. He began his professional career as a mining geologist in Africa, then moved to the United States in 1952 to work for the Newmont Mining Corp.
After serving in the U.S. Army, Hargraves entered graduate school at Princeton, combining two important areas of geology: petrology, the use of microscopes and other tools to study the grain-level detail of rocks; and paleomagnetism, the study of how the Earth's magnetic field left unique signatures in the structure of nascent rocks and how this signature reflects the movement of continents. He received his Ph.D. in 1959 from Princeton, and joined the faculty in 1961.
During his long and fruitful career, he continued to combine studies of rock magnetism and petrology to uncover the origins and history of the rocks of the continental crust. His skill in making detailed studies of individual rocks led him toward answering major questions of planetary histories. His work took him and his students to many regions of North America, Europe, South America, Africa and India.
His contributions to extraterrestrial geology began with his recognition of geologic features near Vredefort, South Africa, and his early and controversial proposal that they were caused by a meteor impact. More than 30 years later, he recognized the same features in the so-called Beaverhead impact feature in Montana and Idaho, and thus discovered one of the largest known meteor impact sites on this planet. He was active in the petrologic analysis of lunar samples from the Apollo landings, many of which resembled the rocks he had studied for his Ph.D. work. He was principal investigator for study of the magnetic properties of Martian rocks on the Viking landing mission (1976) and on the Martian pathfinder mission (1999).
Hargraves' work frequently brought him into conflict with conventional wisdom, said Robert Phinney, professor of geosciences. "He seemed to thrive on the controversies. He liked to find opportunities to advance science by questioning established ideas," Phinney said. "In some cases it was mild skepticism or revisions, and in others he really wanted to do it differently; he didn't get beaten down, he kept soldiering on and made important contributions."
Hargraves wrote more than 100 articles in the geologic literature. Among honors he received were the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement in 1977 and the Jubilee Medal of the Geological Society of South Africa in 1987.
Survivors include his wife, Sybil, and his daughters, Monica, Allison and Colleen.
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