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Steve Hinnefeld
IU Communications

Last modified: Friday, March 9, 2012

Geologist Walter Alvarez to speak at IU Bloomington as Wells Scholars Program Professor

March 9, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Walter Alvarez, a geologist best known for his work establishing the theory that an asteroid collision caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, will give two public talks this month at Indiana University Bloomington during a residence as an IU Class of 1943 Wells Scholars Program Professor.

He also will serve as scholar-in-residence at IU's CRAFT Research Center, an institute dedicated to investigating the origins and evolution of human technology, and the Stone Age Institute, a research center dedicated to the archaeological study of human origins and technological development.

Walter Alvarez

Walter Alvarez

Print-Quality Photo

"Walter Alvarez is one of the most distinguished scientists of our time," write Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth, co-directors of the CRAFT Research Center and the Stone Age Institute. "As a geologist, he teamed up with his father, the physicist and Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez, and proposed the hypothesis that the dinosaur extinction 65 million years ago was caused by a catastrophic extraterrestrial impact of an asteroid or comet. Subsequent research over the past several decades has supported this hypothesis, including the discovery of a gigantic impact crater of the same time in the Yucatan area."

Alvarez's public events at IU include:

  • "Evolution in the 21st Century: Science, Education and Politics," a panel discussion with IU anthropologists Schick, Toth and Geoff Conrad; biologists Elizabeth Raff and Rudolf Raff; geologist Lisa Pratt; and physicist Timothy Londergan. It will take place at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 21, at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, 416 N. Indiana Ave.
  • "Big History: A Bridge Between the Humanities and Sciences," a lecture on a new field that aims to tie everything in our planet's past into a coherent understanding of the grand sweep and character of history. It will be at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 26, at the Whittenberger Auditorium in the Indiana Memorial Union. A public reception will follow at the IMU University Club.

Alvarez is professor emeritus in the Department of Earth & Planetary Science at the University of California Berkeley. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has received the Penrose Medal, the highest honor of the Geological Society of America.

Alvarez attended Carleton College in Minnesota and received his Ph.D. in geology at Princeton. After joining the faculty at UC Berkeley, he began a study of the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous Period as recorded in the Italian limestones. Evidence from iridium measurements, he found, suggested that the extinction was due to impact on the Earth of a giant asteroid or comet. Many years later, that hypothesis was confirmed by the discovery of the largest impact crater on the planet, in the subsurface of the Yucatan Peninsula, dating from precisely the time of the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction.

His book "T. Rex and the Crater of Doom" documents his discovery of the extraterrestrial cause of the last major extinction event, which killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

At IU, Alvarez will also participate in a Wells Scholars Program seminar, taught by Schick and Toth, on "Origins and Extinctions: the Big History of the Earth." Previous Wells Scholars Program Professors have included rock musician and producer Todd Rundgren, playwright Athol Fugard, New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz, artist Robert Colescott and South African political leader Helen Suzman.