Remembering Neil Irvine

Irvine in British Columbia 1973
Neil Irvine collects samples in British Columbia in 1973.
Monday, April 13, 2020 

It is with a heavy heart that we remember Thomas Neil Irvine, Geophysical Lab* staff petrologist (1972-2003), who passed away on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the age of 87.

T. Neil Irvine was a leading authority on layered igneous intrusions and their ore deposits, particularly the Duke Island ultramafic complex in Alaska, the Muskox intrusion in Canada, and the Skaergaard intrusion in Greenland. He was known for his meticulous attention to detail, from his beautifully hand-drawn maps of igneous rock to his meticulous use of the English language.

Irvine shared this attention to detail with generations of geologists in A Writing Guide for Petrological (and Other Geological) Manuscripts which he co-wrote with Doug Rumble—another leading Carnegie petrologist—and his wife Lorna Irvine, who taught English and Women’s Studies at George Mason University.

“Certainly, it is impossible for geologists to avoid passive-voice expressions such as ‘the rocks were metamorphosed’ but most of us also find it difficult to refrain from saying ‘the minerals were analyzed’ or ‘the experiments were run’, and that is largely a matter of conditioning. After all, ‘we’ analyzed or ran them!”

- A Writing Guide for Petrological (and Other Geological) Manuscripts, 1991

According to Mike Walter, the Deputy Director of the Earth and Planets Laboratory, “Neil was truly an outstanding old-school petrologist who published works of art with a level of detail, precision, and insight that I am afraid is difficult to find in these modern times of crank it out as fast as you can research.” 

Irvine received his Ph.D. from Caltech in 1959, thereafter he worked at McMaster University and the Geological Survey of Canada. He joined the Geophysical Laboratory in 1972 as a staff petrologist. During his time at Carnegie, he received the N.L. Bowen Award of Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology Section of AGU in 1982. He was recognized as a distinguished lecturer of the Society of Economic Geologists in 1986.

*The Geophysical Lab recently merged with the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism to form the Earth and Planets Laboratory.