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American Mineralogist Vol 33, pages 158-160, 1948



      University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

      Ten years ago at the meeting of this Society in Washington the first  Roebling Medal was presented to Charles Palache, the Dean of American Mineralogists and for many years a close friend of Colonel Washington A. Roebling. Since then four other mineralogists from the United States and one from Great Britain have been recipients of the medal. Meeting today in Ottawa, the capital of the Dominion of Canada with its many close ties to the Old World, it is indeed fitting that a European should he selected to receive the award on this occasion. It is also very appropriate that the recipient should be a native and resident of Switzerland, the country which for centuries has been noted for the industry, efficiency, and integrity of its citizens and has always stood as a mighty bulwark for science, democracy, and international good will.

      Paul Niggli was born at Zofingen, Switzerland, on June 26, 1888. His early education was obtained in the city of his birth and at near-by Aarau. In 1907 he entered the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zürich, from which he was graduated as an engineer in 1912. He then studied for a short period at the Technische Hochschule in Karlsruhe, Germany, and on his return to Switzerland passed the examinations at the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

      At the institutions in Zurich and Karlsruhe he was privileged to study with many eminent scientists. These included the mineralogist and petrographer Ulrich Grubenmann, the geologist Albert Heim, the chemists Richard Willstätter, G. Bredig, and E. Baur, and the physicists Pierre Weiss and Albert Einstein. Having devoted much time to physics and physical chemistry, it was quite natural that he should wish to spend some time at the then recently organized Geophysical Laboratory  in Washington, where in 1912--13, as one of the first Europeans to do so, he engaged in research.  On his return to Zurich, frequently called the Athens of Switzerland, he qualified as a Privat-dozent at the University. From 1915 to 1920 he held appointments at the German universities in Leipzig  and Tübingen. He then became professor of mineralogy  and petrography  in Zurich, as the successor to his distinguished teacher, professor Grubenmann. It should be stated that in Zurich the Technische Hochschule and the University are very closely integrated, and some staff members serve both institutions, as does Professor Niggli.

      In 1920, when Dr. Niggli was appointed professor, Zurich was widely recognized as a leading center for the study of the earth sciences. This was due in large measure to the many important and enduring contributions made by his distinguished predecessors and teachers, notably Kenngott, Grubenmann, and Helm. To maintain this high reputation and, if possible, to increase the prestige of the institutions in Zurich was no small task that devolved upon Professor Niggli. Possessed of an apparently limitless store of energy and industry and with an excellent preparation and experience in the newer phases of science as related to mineralogy and petrography, he soon demonstrated that, he was equal to this task.

      Professor Niggli's bibliography includes nearly two hundred papers and about fifteen books. In these publications, he clearly reveals his comprehensive grasp not only of the earth sciences, but also of cognate fields. This is amply illustrated by his studies dealing with fundamental crystallographic, and theoretical structural concepts, stereochemistry as applied to crystals and minerals, ore deposits, the constituents and products of the magma, igneous and metamorphic rocks, paragenesis of minerals, the minerals of the Swiss Alps, and the science of snow and avalanches, to mention some of the general subjects. By applying the newer method and viewpoints as developed by physical chemistry and modern physics to crystallographic, mineralogic and petrography problems, he has in many of his publications opened new avenues of approach and has thus influenced scientific thinking and interpretation.

      Along with this unusual scientific activity, Professor Niggli served from 1921 to 1940 as editor of the Zeitschrift für Krystallographie und Mineralogie founded by Paul Groth at Strasbourg in 1877. Because of the shift in emphasis which had taken place in crystallographic and mineralogic research, the name of the journal was changed to the Zeitschrift für Krystallographie with the sub-title Krystallgeometrie, Krystallphysik, Krystallchemie. Beginning with the sixtieth volume in 1924, the distinguished physicists Max von Laue and P. P. Ewald, and the well-known physical chemist K. Fajans were associated with him as editors. During Dr. Niggli's incumbency as editor, forty-six volumes of the Zeitschrift were published.

      Professor Niggli has not only achieved an eminent international reputation as a scientist and editor, but he has also demonstrated exceptional ability as an administrator. This is evidenced by the fact that he has served as rector of the Technische Hochschule for three year's (1929-32) and of the University of Zurich for two years (1940- 42). Last year he was chairman of the commission on arrangements for the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Naturforschende Gesellschaft of Zurich, which was held in September 1946, and as president of that organization he presided at the sessions. Moreover, he is president of the Geotechnical Commission and a member of the Geological Commission of Switzerland. Service on important educational committees of the University and of the Canton of Zurich must also be mentioned.

      Professor Niggli's achievements have been recognized by the conferring of honorary degrees upon him by the Universities of Geneva, Budapest, and Sofia, and the Technische Hochschule in Stuttgart. In addition, he has been elected a fellow or corresponding member of approximately twenty of the world's leading learned and scientific societies, including the Mineralogical and Geological Societies of America. He is indeed a citizen of the world.

      We all rejoice that Professor Niggli could be present at this meeting, which is truly of an international character. His attendance was made possible by a substantial grant from the American-Swiss Foundation for Scientific Exchange, Inc.

      Paul Niggli: - In recognition of the many significant and abiding contributions which you, as teacher, investigator, author, and editor, have made to the advancement of the various branches of science represented by this society, it is indeed a great privilege and honor, on behalf of the Mineralogical Society of America, to present to you the Washington A. Roebling Medal.

American Mineralogist Vol 33, pages 161-165, 1948



      Eidgenössische Technische Hochschide, Zurich, Switzerland.

      The Roebling Medal, which The Mineralogical Society of America has been pleased to confer upon me, is indeed a unique distinction for a mineralogist. This presentation marks the second time the Medal has gone overseas and the first time to go to Switzerland. Professor Kraus has referred to the work of the Swiss mineralogists and geologists and to me in most flattering terms. Small wonder, then, that at this moment I should feel not only thankful to you, who have thus honored me, but embarrassed as well. I cannot but think that individual effort, when it shows a certain continuity and springs from real pleasure in the subject, may easily be overrated.

      And so I should like on this so memorable an occasion for me to define in some measure what seems to me the special charm of the science we all serve. Some 40 years ago when I decided to take up the study of mineralogy, men who knew that I liked to grapple with a problem asked me why I had not chosen one of the so-called fundamental sciences, such as chemistry or physics. Minerals were, they said, for the most part already well known, and the general knowledge of the lithosphere was so far advanced as only to leave routine work to be done. The development of our science during the last 40 years has amply shown how far amiss such opinions were. And yet even today, and in spite of the rapid advance of crystal chemistry as a new connecting link between different sciences, mineralogy seems to lie off the road, since "speed," "actuality," "rationalization" are the order of the day. Perhaps this is because a comparatively tranquil atmosphere has surrounded our work. To understand the essential difference between our style of research and that prevailing in other sciences, we must define more clearly the very nature of the latter.

      The progress of chemistry and physics has been made possible by observation, analysis, and experimental and mathematical treatment of natural phenomena. But happenings in nature, such as thunderstorms or avalanches in the spring time, were divided into a number of separate processes, each of which could be satisfactorily studied in the laboratory under precisely defined conditions. Thus separated from their natural context, they provided the basis of chapters in Electricity, Mechanics, and Physical Chemistry.

      If a chemist or physicist is asked today about the details of the formation of a rock or mineral paragenesis, he will indicate some general laws, but at the same time point out that the influencing factors are far too numerous and the prevailing conditions too vague for an exact answer. He feels little interest in the intricate natural combination of processes which he for his part is accustomed to study separately, or at least to combine according to his own desire. The laboratory study has become for him the surroundings in which he receives the impetus and inspiration for his work.

      These sciences have often been called the exact ones because they endeavor so to simplify and generalize the problems so that comparatively unequivocal deductions can be made. Research that is directed toward the unaltered conditions found in Nature (in the lithosphere, for example) that strives to give these conditions a scientific formulation and to understand them as the result of certain processes, is generally called a descriptive science. This is because axioms and definitions are replaced by descriptions of what Nature provides. But it is certainly not true to say that such descriptions exhaust the scope of our science. To the same extent as in physics or chemistry, it studies processes and properties and strives to understand the present state of things as derived or still in process of derivation from former- states. But what is characteristic of the so-called descriptive sciences is their constantly maintained effort to reach an understanding of the natural phenomena as a whole, influenced and guided as they are by a multiplicity of factors.

      The mineralogist and petrographer can never approach his problems from a one-sided standpoint. As a geologist, geophysicist, and geochemist, he must study the sites chosen by Nature for forming minerals and mineral deposits. What concerns him most is the question how this product of Nature came to be, what ultimate causes (irrespective of chemistry and physics) gave it its peculiar aspect and relationship to other occurrences. The physicist and chemist who is only interested in certain fundamental phenomena runs the risk of undue specialization. On the other hand, the mineralogist, petrologist, geologist, and biologist, for whom every natural factor is of importance and who should, therefore, be accurately informed about all of them, can, very often, not meet the requirements made upon him. Much that he needs for his synthesis must be accepted by hearsay, which easily leads to dilettantism.

      Thus, both lines of research have their danger, though of course, the fundamental differences that have been sketched by no means coincide with an aptitude for any one subject or line of teaching. Many highly meritorious teachers and researchers in mineralogy and petrography have restricted themselves to very narrow fields and have never felt the urge to apply themselves to any particular occurrence in Nature. On the other hand, there have been physicists and chemists who never lost sight of the natural interrelations. But on the whole, the fact remains that the work of the mineralogist and petrologist starts from a study of Nature and is an attempt to apply the teachings of all fundamental sciences to his own very special problems. And this seems to me at least the peculiar, in fact, incomparable, attraction of the earth-sciences.

      In some remote valley of the Alps and among the steep rocks we find signs of mineral fissures formed during the period of compression of the earth's crust and of mountain building. Carefully opened, the interior of the fissure displays a maze of crystals, wonderfully regular in shape. We attempt to unravel the laws governing the structure of these products of Nature, structures which require magnifications of a hundred million times to be made visible. And with their help the processes of crystallization and the development of crystal forms are made accessible to our understanding. Other questions arise which go beyond the formation of the individual occurrence and relate to mineral paragenesis in general, for instance the source of the solutions from which the crystals have separated according to physical-chemical laws. These in turn lead to a study of the rocks in which the mineral fissures were formed and further to the rock-forming processes and geochemical laws which many millions of years ago led to the formation of this part of the lithosphere that during the course of the Earth's history has again and again undergone changes and entered into characteristic reactions with the exterior forces.

      Immense vistas thus appear before us, as soon as we attempt to comprehend in its historic significance even so small a portion of the inorganic world around us. Surely this task of reconstruction must always seem a fascinating one, even though we are aware that the picture we construct carries no certainty with it but merely a probable or possible sequence of events. Our activities may be compared with those of an artist who from many separate impressions creates a painting in which form and color are but parts of a whole, but whose harmony conveys an essential truth.

      The stress, thus laid on the historical and artistic aspects of our science, may perhaps evoke the question whether such activities are of any practical value. Personally, I consider this question misplaced. The urge toward understanding the world around us is not one that can be judged by material values and from the point of view of its usefulness. The times in which we live have made it doubtful whether the progress of technical science has been well or badly applied. But it is clear that every scientific achievement must have an influence on our daily lives and that it would be absurd not to make use of the results of our labors in shaping the pattern of the surroundings in which we live. Our sciences are no exceptions in this respect. Nor do they merely show us where our raw materials are to be obtained. The increasing importance of complicated building and construction materials calls for widely comprehensive viewpoints that are essential to the mineralogist and petrographer. It does not suffice to classify an industrial material according to its chemical composition or physical behavior under simple conditions. Internal structure, micro- and macro-structures, behavior under influence of variously combined factors in tests of short and long duration, all these and many other details must be given conscientious consideration before a useful characterization can be arrived at.

      The mineralogical style of research is beginning to make headway in these connections and, as in medicine, so also in the study of materials, scientists with a broad outlook are increasingly being called upon to supplement the work of the specialists. The value of correlations based on a knowledge of the constitution as a whole is thus becoming increasingly appreciated.

      The aims man sets for himself are ideals he can never achieve. That, of course, is true also for mineralogical and petrographic research. How gratifying is it, then, when the striving for truth finds recognition, notwithstanding the errors that have crept in. Thus, it is, I feel, not through what I have achieved, but at most by loyalty to what I consider to be the fundamental principles of our science that I can in any way merit the honor you have bestowed on me, which moves me so deeply. For such time as may still be given me, the Roebling Medal will always be an incentive to further research.

      I extend to you my heartfelt thanks, and my thanks go also to our common inexhaustible Science, which even in the darkest days of our history has never failed to enrich us.

Paul Niggli

      * Presented at the animal luncheon meeting of the Society which was held in December 20, 1947, Ottawa, Canada.

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