An Interview with Dr. Henry Dick, Chief Scientist

Hi everyone! I spent some time chatting with Dr. Henry Dick, Chief Scientist of this cruise. Dr. Dick has been with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) ever since he graduated with his PhD from Yale in 1975. He’s a senior scientist in the mantle petrology geochemistry group. In college he studied ophiolites as a structural and regional geologist in Oregon. Working with ocean crust samples on land fed his desire to hold an ocean floor sample in his hand. He wanted to go to sea. With his tendency to challenge conventional theory and the luck to be correct, Dr. Dick has helped to change the way geologists understand the mantle. He’s been on more than 30 ocean cruises including one to the Arctic to break through ice and map the ridge there! He’s identified major features of the seafloor, conducted a great deal of successful research and worked with good graduate students throughout his illustrious career.

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So, what does Dr. Dick like most about going to sea? Watching the map of the seafloor unfolding. Seeing what’s never been seen before. The way ocean floor is different from the continents. The excitement of exploring and discovering.

How did Dr. Dick become part of an international team? He was on one of the first legs of the international Deep Sea Drilling Project and met geologists from around the world. He went out as an American geologist and came back an international geologist! There were more people working aboard that ship in his area of interest than he knew of in the entire United States. He has subsequently worked on many cruises with scientists from other countries including sailing on Japanese and Russian ships. He met co-chief scientists Jürgen Koepke on a drilling cruise and Huaiyang Zhou at WHOI. They have since collaborated for many years on different projects. When the idea to study this part of the southwest Indian Ridge came up, they knew it was too big to be done on one outing. Dr. Dick wrote a proposal for a U.S. expedition and Dr. Koepke wrote one for a German expedition. Dr. Zhou had money from a proposal that had been accepted, but no ship was available at the time, so he contributed his funds to these two cruises. The international cooperation made this study possible. Others were invited to fill out the science spaces. What really matters to Dr. Dick is that this cruise produces many original observations and interesting papers to share with the scientific community. He trusts his colleagues, they’re good, and they produce more together.

What led Dr. Dick to become a geologist in the first place? His great grandfather was a geologist and acquired an extensive collection of interesting rocks. Dr. Dick’s mother, also a geologist, had the collection and Henry spent a lot of time examining the rocks while growing up. As a child with Asperger Syndrome and dyslexia (undiagnosed then), school was tricky for him. He did very well in classes that required remembering facts, focus on details, and understanding technical information, but he struggled to learn languages. Those Asperger traits served him well as a scientist. He began working for an archaeological museum at the end of high school and found that he was really good at identifying and interpreting archaeology sites. He wanted to become an archaeologist and went to the University of Pennsylvania to learn about archeology. However, he felt they weren’t interested in supporting undergraduates learning archaeology, and so he switched to geology. Once in the program, he was hooked and kept wanting to understand more and more, and subsequently continued in geology through his PhD.