1926

Geology Giant: Richard E. Fuller


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Many of the early geology students and faculty of the UW pioneered the study of the geology of our own region in addition to their research of geological structures elsewhere. Richard E. Fuller is an exceptional example of that versatility: not only did he make major contributions to the understanding of geological formations in Washington State, but he also held the prestigious position of lead scientist studying the historic 1943 eruption of the Paricutin volcano in Mexico. Moreover, he served for many years as director of the Seattle Art Museum, which was created to house works collected by Fuller and his mother.

Fuller carried out work for his master's thesis in the Snoqualmie Pass area of the Cascade Mountains. He established that a granite rock mass called the Snoqualmie granitic batholith had broken through its roof and poured out onto the earth's surface. This phenomenon is now widely accepted worldwide for granite magmas, but when Fuller documented it, granites were believed to be emplaced deeply in the earth's crust.

Fuller began field work on his doctoral dissertation in 1926 on the Columbia Plateau of Washington State. He developed an explanation of the origin of the Asotin craters; and he brought to the attention of scientists nationwide the phenomenon of altered basaltic glasses in the region of the Columbia Plateau. Fuller established standards that are still useful in distinguishing cloropaeite, sideromelane, and palagonite, three minerals characteristic of Cenozoic basaltic fields around the world.

In Fuller's doctoral thesis, awarded in 1930, he presented an array of chemical analyses of the rocks rhyolite, andesite, basalt, and latite that form the Steens Mountains. A term coined by Fuller to describe the texture of basalts ("diktytaxitic") remains a standard term in the glossary of geologists.

Beginning in 1933, Fuller served as president and director of the Seattle Art Museum, while continuing his geological research as a faculty member of the UW. Over the next 32 years he carried out this dual role.

Upon the birth of the basaltic volcano Paricutin in a Mexican cornfield in 1943, Fuller was catapulted back full-force into geological research. Then President of the Volcanological Section of the American Geophysical Union, Fuller was tapped to become the Chairman of the U.S. Committee for the Study of the Paricutin volcano in 1944. He was the lead scientist studying that historic geological event, in which the world witnessed the birth of an entirely new volcano that rose up out of a farmer's field.


  1. "Memorial to Richard Eugene Fuller, 1897-1976," Julian D. Barksdale, published by the Geological Society of America.

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