Guust Nolet


Guust Nolet, who recently left Princeton to take a position at the University of Nice/Sophia Antipolis in France, describes himself as a one-time physicist who got lost in the geosciences. He has spent a lifetime teaching geophysics to students at Princeton and earlier in the Netherlands, where he grew up, received his Ph.D. at the University of Utrecht, and was a professor until joining the faculty in Guyot Hall in 1991. Many Princeton students may remember him from the large GEO 210 course (Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Other Hazards), which he in vain tried to free from the reputation of an easy course with the nickname “Shake and Bake.” He also is a regular teacher at the Inter- national Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, which mainly serves students from underdeveloped countries.

Guust pioneered the science of seismic tomography—the imaging of the deep Earth—and designed the first portable digital seismic array for field studies of the Earth’s interior structure. He led efforts to organize the archiving and distribution of digital seismic data from global networks, both in Europe and in the U.S., where he was a longtime member of the board of directors of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, a consortium of more than 100 universities. As a result, scientists all over the world can log in to the Internet to obtain seismic data within minutes of the occurrence of an earthquake—even though Guust himself still prefers the use of a fountain pen over that of a keyboard, which he still clumsily types with two fingers. His scientific accomplishments include the discovery of thermal plumes deep in the Earth’s mantle, using theoretical advances for the analysis of seismic waves developed with the late Tony Dahlen.

Guust served as director of graduate studies and as associate chair for the Department of Geosciences and was on numerous national and international committees and advisory panels. He was editor of Geophysical Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Journal of Geophysical Research, and the Journal of Seismology. He is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, the Academia Europea, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Gutenberg Medal from the European Geophysical Society and—in the footsteps of Al Gore—the Bownocker Medal from Ohio State University.