An Obituary for Samuel S. Goldich

By Bruce R Doe


Goldschmidt Medal winner in 1983, Samuel Stephen Goldich died 20 December 2000 at his apartment in Applewood, Colorado (a suburb of Denver), less than a month before his 92nd birthday. Sam, as he was widely known, received early fame with his 1938 paper in the Journal of Geology on rock weathering based on his Ph.D. thesis, an amazing paper that continued to receive citations into the 1990s, more than 50 years later. In short, he determined that the resistance of igneous minerals to weathering was the inverse of the Bowen Reaction Series, that is minerals crystallized at lower temperatures were more resistant to weathering than those crystallized at high temperatures (and pressures). In other words the last minerals to crystallize (e.g., the most resistant was quartz followed by orthoclase, etc.) from a melt were the most resistant to weathering, a sequence that became known as the Goldich Stability Series (for a short discussion of this on the web see the 1996 web site of Pamela Gore at


A few years later in 1941, a second, two-part widely utilized paper was published by Sandell and Goldich on the trace-element concentrations in igneous rocks, also in the Journal of Geology. This pioneering paper introduced the dithizone colorimetric analytical technique for trace-element determination to earth science and resulted in some of the most precise trace-element data in extent at the time and for decades thereafter.


Sam got into an argument with the late Paul Gast over which radiometric dating system on biotite would be more susceptible to alteration by weathering -- the K-Ar system or the Rb-Sr system -- and a bet ensued. Paul thought that K-Ar would be more affected by weathering which would open the structure of biotite and let the argon escape which was not bound in the structure. Sam, however, thought that Rb-Sr would be more affected because the Sr that did not fit in the structure would be subject to ion exchange. Thus a paper resulted (Goldich and Gast , 1966). Incidentally, Goldich won the bet.


A very important paper with Mudrey (first presented in abstract form at the Geological Society of America meeting as Goldich and Mudrey, 1969, with the paper appearing in 1972) using dilatancy to help explain the discordance of the U-Th-Pb ages in zircons never received the acclaim it deserved because of its original publication in a Russian book, but Doe was later to make use of it in explain the U-Th-Pb whole-rock system in granites. In brief, the theory says that as the pressure on minerals and rocks is released through uplift and erosion, they expand and make lead that is not in the structure accessible to removal by crustal fluids.


No biography of Goldich would be complete without mention of Sam's interest in the 3,500-myr.-old rocks of the Minnesota River Valley which originally appeared to be 3,800 myr. old in his collaborations with Ed Catanzaro and later Tom Stern (see Goldich, Hedge and Stern, 1970). This discovery led to the search of other areas in the U.S. for perancient rocks with the discovery by others of these sorts of rocks in Michigan and Wyoming.


He ended his research career with a very important paper on the air abrasion method of preparing zircons for U-Th-Pb dating (Goldich and Fischer, 1986) that has become much used for Pb isotope tracer work as well as zircon dating.


Sam received the Department of Interior Distinguished Service Award in 1965, and he was a founder of the Institute of Lake superior Geology and received its first Goldich Award in 1980.


S.S. Goldich received an AB from the University of Minnesota in 1929 and eventually a Ph.D. in 1936. In between, he earned an M.A. from Syracuse University in 1930 (and was to receive their Alexander Winchell Award in Geology in 1977), spent two years as an assistant in geology at the then Missouri School of Mines, 1930-1932 (now, University of Missouri at Rolla) where his association with Garrett Muilenburg resulted in his first paper (Muilenberg and Goldich, 1933), and was a fellow at Washington University in St. Louis where he published a paper with Carl Tolman (Tolman and Goldich, 1935). While a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, he was a chemist in the famous Rock Analysis Laboratory.


In the period 1936- 1941, Sam rose from instructor to Associate Professor at the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College which resulted in a number of papers on Texas geology and developed his research interest in iron ore in a paper with Barnes, Goldich, and Romberg (1949) that resulted in the milestone papers with Henry Lepp (Lepp and Goldich, 1959, 1964).


He served World War II in the U.S. Geological Survey in exploration and study of laterite and bauxite in a number of unusual locations that eventually resulted in a series of papers during a second tour with the U.S. Geological Survey in 1947 and 1948. There were papers with Hendricks and Nelson in 1946 on a portable differential thermal analysis unit for bauxite exploration, with Bergquist on aluminous lateritic soil of the Dominican Republic in 1947, and with Bridge in 1948 on the bauxite of Babelthuap Island in the Palau Group of islands.


Sam rejoined the University of Minnesota in 1948 and became Professor and Director of the Rock Analysis Laboratory the following year, a position he was to hold until his departure in 1959 (and was to receive the Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award in 1985). Notable among his Ph.D. graduate students were Ralph Erickson who was the founding Branch Chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Geochemical Exploration Branch, Ronald Burwash who became a professor at the University of Alberta, Harry Gehman who went to work in the oil industry, and Richard B. Taylor who became Chief of the Branch of Central Mineral Resources in the U.S. Geological Survey.


Master's candidates included Gary Ernst, currently a Professor at Stanford University, and Zell Peterman a former Chief of the late Branch of Isotope Geology, U.S. Geological Survey, and a pioneer in strontium isotope geochemistry. During this period and in collaboration with Alfred Nier of the University of Minnesota, Sam organized a potassium-argon facility in the Department of Geology with Halfdon Baadsgaard (who also later became a professor at the University of Alberta). A number of important papers resulted from this collaboration.


Upon leaving the University of Minnesota, Goldich joined the U.S. Geological Survey a third time and became the founding Branch Chief of the famous Branch of Isotope Geology in 1960, now defunct. Initially, the Branch was located at the old National Bureau of Standards site on Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness in Washington. D.C. (Now the site of the University of the District of Columbia).


This location also allowed Goldich to make a close association with Bill Shields of the National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now called the National Institute of Standards and Technology) who was involved in using mass spectrometry for redetermining atomic weights. This association resulted in much upgrading of the instrumentation in the Branch plus the building of new equipment known as Shields Mass Spectrometers and led the late Paul Gast to say that Shields was the most valuable employee in the Branch of Isotope Geology and the U.S. Geological Survey didn't even have to pay him.


The core of this Branch came from the old Nucleonics Group that had been headed by Frank Senftle. In addition to Senftle, there were Irving Friedman, Henry Faul, Lorin Stieff, Thomas Stern, and Meyer Rubin, among others. Stieff shortly left to pursue his interest in world peace. Faul and Goldich had a falling out and Faul eventually left for the University of Pennsylvania. Quickly added were Ron Kistler (who was soon to return to the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, California), Carl Hedge, Edward Catanzaro, and Bruce Doe.  Catanzaro soon left to join Shields at the NBS.


The NBS site had to be abandoned because of their move to Gaithersburg and the Assistant Chief Geology for the Central Region came up with a small building (Bldg. 21) at the former WW II munitions plant in Lakewood, Colorado, known as the Denver Federal Center. John Rosholt was already there, and Irving Friedman in 1963 was the first to move. John Stacey and Mitsunobu Tatsumoto were soon added and Bruce Doe moved there in 1963 followed by most of the others in 1964, including Robert Zartman and John Obradovich.


During a period of years after this move, Senftle and Stern stayed in Washington, D.C., and joined other groups. Meyer Rubin was to remain there in the Branch with his carbon-14 operation. A popular way for the Branch of Isotope Geology to acquire researchers was from other branches. Zell Peterman, for example, came from a branch called Geochemical Census (and, for example, later in Menlo Park, Marvin Lanphere from the Branch of Alaskan Geology, and Brent Dalrymple from the Branch of Theoretical Geophysics).


[History of the Branch of Isotope Geology after Sam ceased being Branch Chief in 1964 is not covered here.]


Doe, a Post-doctoral Fellow at the Geophysical Laboratory, was hired under an agreement that the U.S. Geological Survey would acquire a 12-inch Shields solid-source mass spectrometer. After that, however, most equipment was obtained as a result of cooperation with other organizations. Stieff, for example, arranged an investigation of uranium series disequilibrium in soils that freed up money for a second 12-inch Shields mass spectrometer and the building of a clean laboratory for isotopic investigations in Denver. A program with Saudi Arabia freed up money for a 6-inch Shields solid-source mass spectrometer. Money was obtained from the Japan-U.S. Scientific Cooperation Program for an argon mass-spectrometer (for an entertaining account of the argon mass spectrometer, you are referred to Glynn's book "The Road to Jaramillo”).


After his tour as Chief of the Branch of Isotope Geology, Goldich was to leave the U.S. Geological Survey again and from 1964-1965 joined Pennsylvania State University as Professor of Geology and Geochemistry and Director of the Mineral Constitution Laboratories, for which he was to hire his former associate Oliver Ingamells. The State University of New York began upgrading their faculty and Sam moved to the State University of New York at Stony Brook as Professor of Geology from 1965 to 1968 at which he oversaw the building of another isotope laboratory and hired Gil Hanson who became a professor there.


Restless, he moved to Northern Illinois University in 1968 as Professor of Geology until his retirement in 1977 as emeritus and where he organized yet a fourth isotope geology laboratory. He was to move to Denver in his retirement and became emeritus at the Colorado School of Mines. Sam was a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, Mineralogical Society of America, and Geological Society of America.


No discussion of Sam would be complete without some mention of his famous personality. Although Sam could be very generous, he was prone to giving unsolicited good advice or opinions. This advice or opinions was often given in a tone that the recipient would take as criticism or, even, condemnation. Perhaps all those who were close to Sam, and even many more distant, experienced this at some time or other. He was prone to allergies which did not improve his disposition. I recall once in a class when he repeatedly asked some question in an increasingly agitated and loud voice punctuated by his blowing his nose as one student after another he called upon couldn't answer it. He finally said with a cute smile, "This class sure is stupid when I don't feel good."


I recall thinking he didn't like me when I was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. I had stayed on for a fifth year to get a bachelors degree in geological engineering but decided to go on and get a master's degree somewhere else as well. I went in to Sam to tell him this and I was going to ask him not to prejudice others that I would ask to write letters of reference for me. I only got out that I was thinking of going somewhere for a master degree when he interrupted that he thought that was a great idea and he could get me a good deal at Missouri School of Mines. He added that I would never regret it. So I decided to leave it at that, and he was right, I never did regret it.


Later when I mentioned I wanted to go on for a Ph.D., he suggested I apply to Caltech and that he would have a place for me in the isotope lab when I flunked out. Well, I did apply and was accepted, but, fortunately, never flunked out. Once I told Dick Taylor about my confusion concerning the unexpected result over the master's degree proposal, and he replied, that Sam was hard on me because he thought I had potential. I had noticed that with certain students of little accomplishment he would talk about fishing, hunting, movies, and the like, but that he eventually even wrote papers with some of the people he was hardest on. However, he left an ill will with many which probably accounts for this remarkable scientist not winning more honors than he did. But there were a lot of us that learned to overcome Sam's outbursts and to regard him as a friend and wonderful scientist.