2019 Urey Award Citation

Liane G. Benning, citationist for Eric Oelkers

Citation by Liane G. Benning

It is an honour to have been asked to make this introduction.

Usually these citations talk about the career path of the medallist but that is boring and not the way I see Eric. Naturally he would not get a medal if he were not an exceptional scientist – and the nominee and committee agree with me that Eric fully deserves this medal. However, what makes Eric stand out among his fellow geochemists is Eric himself.

I first heard about Eric when I was a PhD student at the ETH and his supervisor Hal Helgerson came to visit. Hal talked about this wizard in thermodynamic and kinetics related to mineral fluid systems and I was in awe. I met Eric at a long-ago Goldschmidt conference where he proceeded to give a most amazing and exciting scientific presentation about simple and elegant mineral dissolution experiments that had however massive implications for understanding weathering and global element cycles. Naturally, in true fashion Eric did this while getting onto a chair to get closer to the big screen, walking through the audience and being – what I thought at the time – somewhat weird, yet weirdly eccentric and exciting. Definitely someone I wanted to get to know. Magic happened and I got to work with Eric in 2005, when I was lucky enough to become involved in a European student training network proposal that he spearheaded (ask and you may get..). Many training networks later and we are still going with many of the trained students and postdocs in the audience today.

The beauty of working with Eric is that he asks big questions and challenges current thinking or paradigms at a time when many think that that is outrageous. Using the word ‘outrageous’ in the same context as Eric may seem odd to most people but it is almost comforting to me. Yes Eric is outrageous … he is outrageously smart, outrageously generous, outrageously supportive, outrageously productive….. and being that kind of outrageous is something that in my books is worth looking up to and if at all possible, a goal to emulate …. we do not all have to wear jackets with pink fish when receiving a medal but I wish more people were as generous, truthful and supportive of me and everybody as Eric is.

Eric’s legacy is not just science but also an inclusive and exciting community spirit. When he was president of the EAG, he really changed the way the society worked and was seen in the world. Was it always to the satisfaction of all? At the time maybe not, but Eric had the vision and drive to change the way the society was thinking and acting. Again, he was generous to me in teaching me how best to contribute to the geochemical community. When he called me up in 2008 and asked if I wanted to help the EAG with a simple job on the communications committee – not much work at all – I naturally did not know what I was agreeing to, but now, more than 10 years later, we bear the fruits of his legacy. The EAG is now a strong society working tirelessly for a better geochemical community spirit and supporting many young researchers in their endeavour. Much of this is Eric’s legacy. Another of his legacies is the vision to drive the birth of the EAG’s society journals dedicated to fostering geochemistry – GP and GPL. To get these off the ground was a job that under Eric’s push and drive we have, against all odds and with the backing of the EAG (at the time still a young society) made possible, and it naturally paid off as both are successful today.

In this short citation, I could naturally only touch upon a few of the many achievements that Eric has contributed and why he deserves this award. I am sure that he will in his acceptance tell us more about why this is. Thus, without further ado I pass the podium to Eric and sit tight for an ‘outrageous’ acceptance followed by a brilliant talk.

Liane G. Benning

Liane G. Benning and Eric Oelkers

Eric Oelkers (right) receiving the 2019 Urey Award from Sigurdur Gislason, EAG President