The 2017 Marsh Awards for Mineralogy, Palaeontology and the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year, run in partnership with the Natural History Museum, took place in the Flett Theatre of the Museum on 8 December 2017.
The Marsh Christian Trust was founded in 1981 as a grant-making body by Brian Marsh. In addition to its grant-making, over the past 30 years the trust has developed an awards scheme to provide recognition to those who work to improve the world we live in.
Recipients of Marsh Awards are always people who make a difference by selflessly contributing their time and energy to causes that they believe in.
The three awards run in partnership with the Museum form part of a larger scheme of some 80 awards that the trust runs in collaboration with charitable organisations, spanning across the areas of heritage, the arts, social welfare, and conservation.
The winners of the three awards are profiled below.
Mineralogy Marsh Award 2017 – Winner: David Green
‘David Green has been at the forefront of encouraging specimen mineralogy in the UK. A graduate in physics, later pursuing a PhD in liquid crystals, David has a sharp and enquiring mind. His “hobby” interest of mineralogy, became his livelihood, and he was for many years curator at the Manchester Museum. In his capacity as custodian of the earth science collections he was successful in substantially improving the collections through donations and acquisitions, and also oversaw the complete redevelopment of the mineral gallery – which is now one of the highlights of the museum.
A very active and successful researcher and field collector, David has pursued his interest across the whole of the UK, regularly turning up new finds. What sets David apart from his peers is his publications record, which is exemplary.
A quick skim through Andy Tindle’s Minerals of Britain and Ireland shows no less than 45 citations of works by David, and there are many others where he appears as a co-author.
His prolific publications record is all the more remarkable because of his incredible commitment in taking on the role of editor of the UK Journal of Mines and Minerals, which was published from 1986 through to 2013 when publication ceased due sadly to the illness and subsequent death of David’s wife Julie who had been a major member of the production team.
It was through the pages of the UKJMM that David’s photographic prowess had come to the fore. The journal initially sought to emulate the well-known American publication Mineralogical Record, but with an emphasis on British mineralogy. High quality illustrations were an essential part of this goal, and David set about, almost single-handedly bringing this about. He developed a range of techniques and equipment and became a master of photographing the very small. As part of this development he became a leading exponent of combination microphotography (the process where a stacked series of images is combined in a computer to provide enhanced depth of field).’ (Roy Starkey)
Palaeontology Marsh Award 2017 – Winner: David Ward
‘David Ward, a keen and highly skilled collector and researcher of fossil sharks and their relatives has been a cornerstone on the late 20th/early 21st Century revival in interest in fossil sharks. He has been the source of scientific material utilised in many of the most extensive studies.’ (C. Underwood)
‘David has provided invaluable support on numerous collecting trips to Woodeaton Quarry, Oxfordshire, which he has predominately funded himself. On top of helping to collect nearly 5 tonnes of material, he single-handedly sieved and processed all of the material collected over several months before handing it back to the NHM at his own cost. He has since been involved in work leading to three presentations and an upcoming publication.’ (E. Bernard)
‘Every year when the Tertiary Research Group opens up the Lessness Shell Bed in Abbey Wood, David takes a large quantity of unpicked material for use in public workshops. For the last 12 years he has lead and managed the workshop at the annual Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, preparing equipment, handouts, labels and coaching his team, normally at his own expense.’ (D. Clemens)
‘Voluntarily supporting amateur engagement, collections development and research, David is an internationally acknowledged figure in his area of expertise; he’s done this in a purely amateur capacity; he’s contributed thousands of fossils to public collections; he’s engaged in all aspects of the subject from fieldwork to sitting on professional bodies and editorial boards; and he’s been doing good work for decades that has supported a vast number of other amateurs and nurtured a number of professional careers. Everything he’s done fits with the ethos of the award in spades.’ (P. Barrett)
Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year, Marsh Award 2017: The Origin and Nature of Life on Earth – The Emergence of the Fourth Geosphere
Authors: Eric Smith and Harold J Morowitz
Published in March 2016 by Cambridge University Press, 678 p. ISBN: 9781107121881
‘This is a ground-breaking, scholarly resourced book illustrated with examples of natural processes drawn from the inner workings of the biosphere itself. It is logically and scientifically written, looking at the origin of life as a ‘nearly inevitable’ consequence of geophysical, geochemical and energy flow processes that have been taking place on this planet for billions of years.
The recently discovered submarine vents and its associated organisms provide powerful insights into the chemotrophic ecosystems that has been proposed as a model for early life-enabling environments. The authors describe in detail the carbon fixation pathways and the build-up of complex organisms and ecosystems in existence today, based on natural processes and develop novel concepts of phase transitions and the necessary order in face of pervasive disturbance as fundamental to establishing hierarchical complex systems.
The book elegantly discusses ‘in equilibrium’ and ‘out of equilibrium’ transition phases and the preservation of biological species as example of cross-level coupling and complex order achieved by the biosphere. The authors seek to overturn the perception that life is a paradox of thermodynamics, but instead it should be understood as a continuation, not a departure from it.
Life is presented to the reader as a new domain within thermodynamics involving the partitioning role of the abiotic geosphere, small-molecules network, carbon reduction and carbon bonds, the chemical path to aminoacids, sugar phosphates carbon-nitrogen heterocycles transition to cellular encapsulation of lipids, catalytic RNA and iron and reliable translation giving birth to biological phylogeny.
Another key area of focus is Darwinian evolution and what the theory can actually answer and mean in the quest for clues about the development and long-term sustainability of the biosphere.
The book does not provide answers to all the questions we have about the origin of life, but it illuminates a promising pathway to get there.’ (M.Richter)
Marsh Award in Palaeontology
- 2016 William Blows
- 2015 Dean Lomax
- 2013 John Quayle
- 2012 Peter Austen
- 2010 Steven Sweetman
- 2009 Stan Wood
- 2008 Joe S.H. Collins
Marsh Award in Mineralogy
- 2016 Roy Starkey
Nominations are now invited to for the Marsh Awards 2018 in Mineralogy, Palaeontology and the Best Earth Sciences Book of the Year. Please visit the Museum’s Marsh Awards page for further information.