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Konrad B. Krauskopf, pioneer geochemist, dies at age 92

Konrad B. Krauskopf, a pioneer in the field of geochemistry and a member of the Stanford University faculty since 1939, died at his campus home on May 4 at age 92. A memorial service is being planned for the near future.

"Konnie had an incredibly full life scientifically," said W. Gary Ernst, former dean of Stanford's School of Earth Sciences, pointing to Krauskopf's long and successful careers as a chemist, field geologist, author and teacher.

"Until a few months ago, he was still coming to campus every day," Ernst recalled. "His office was on the third floor, and he took the stairs two at a time. The guy was amazing!"

Krauskopf was one of a handful of scientists in the late 1930s who helped define the emerging field of geochemistry, which combined the concepts of physical chemistry with those of geology.

"When Konnie first began his teaching career in 1939, the term 'geochemistry' was just beginning to be used," said Stanford geoscientist Gordon E. Brown Jr. "He clearly distinguished himself scientifically with a number of seminal contributions to the field -- including the controls of trace-element concentrations in sea water, the solubility of silica and the transport of metals in ore-forming solutions."

Popular textbooks

In a career spanning more than six decades, Krauskopf led numerous geological and mapping expeditions to such places as the Pacific Northwest, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Transmexican Volcanic Belt and coastal Norway. His pioneering research and academic achievements earned him numerous honors, including the Legendary Geoscientist Award from the American Geological Institute in 2000 and the Distinguished Public Service Medal from the Mineralogical Society of America in 1994.

"He was an extremely meticulous geologist and did a tremendous amount of fieldwork," Ernst said. "But he made his greatest impact through his textbooks, including Introduction to Geochemistry, the defining text on geochemistry, which laid out the basic principles still being taught today."

A third edition of the book, coauthored with Stanford Professor Dennis Bird, was published in 1994. Another Krauskopf text, The Physical Universe, coauthored with physicist Arthur Beiser, is now in its 10th edition.

"Even the non-geochemists among us learned everything we know about geochemistry from Konnie and from his books," added Professor Pamela Matson, the current dean of the School of Earth Sciences.


From chemist to geochemist

Born in Madison, Wis., on Nov. 10, 1910, Krauskopf received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where his father was a professor of chemistry. Although inspired by an undergraduate course in geology, Krauskopf stayed in the field of chemistry and earned a doctoral degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 1934.

A year later, he met with Stanford geologist Aaron Waters, who rekindled Krauskopf's interest in the geological sciences. In 1935, he enrolled in a four-year graduate program in geology with Waters, and simultaneously was hired by the Stanford Chemistry Department as an undergraduate instructor in the physical sciences. While studying at Stanford, Krauskopf met and married Kathryn McCune, his wife of 64 years, who died in 2001.

In 1939, after earning a doctorate in geology -- his second Ph.D. -- Krauskopf joined the Stanford faculty. Two years later, he wrote the first of six widely used textbooks, Fundamentals of Physical Sciences. In 1947, he was named chief of the U.S. Army's G-2 Geographic Section in Tokyo; he received a citation for meritorious civilian service.


Professional acclaim

After completing his work with the Army in 1949, Krauskopf returned to Stanford, where he continued teaching, writing and conducting field expeditions. In 1957, he was named associate dean of the School of Mineral Sciences, now known as Earth Sciences. He also served as president of three major professional organizations: the American Geological Institute (AGI) in 1964, the Geological Society of America (GSA) in 1967 and the Geochemical Society in 1970. He was awarded the Day Medal of GSA (1961), the Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society (1982) and the Ian Campbell Medal of AGI (1984).

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1959, Krauskopf was named director of the NAS/National Research Council Board on Radioactive Waste Management work that culminated in his 1988 book, Radioactive Waste Disposal and Geology. He also was elected to the American Philosophical Society and was recipient of National Science Foundation, Fulbright and Guggenheim overseas fellowships in Germany, France and Norway.

Although he became professor emeritus in 1976, Krauskopf was recalled to active teaching duty several times -- as recently as this year.

"Until very recently, he was still attending our geophysics seminars," Matson recalled. "It was always a real thrill for visitors from around the world to know that Konnie was there listening to them."

In an interview with Stanford magazine in 2001, Krauskopf said he was still fascinated with solving fundamental mysteries about what lies below the Earth's crust: "What I would like to know about is the origin of granites. We still don't have the necessary instruments, but I'm convinced we will find some way of investigating what is happening at deep levels in the Earth."

Krauskopf is survived by his sister, Betty Bushnell of Hawaii, and four children -- Karen Hyde of Belvedere, Calif.; Frances Conley of Sea Ranch, Calif.; Karl Krauskopf of Ashland, Ore.; and Marion Krauskopf of Oceanside, Calif. Donations may be made to a preferred Stanford designation, a local animal shelter or a favorite charity.


By Mark Shwartz

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