BY JULIA DOYLE ’20
Dr. Darby Dyar was recently awarded the 2016 Geological Society of America’s G.K. Gilbert Award for her achievements in the field of planetary geology. The G.K. Gilbert Award, named after the scientist who “recognized the importance of a planetary perspective in solving terrestrial geological problems,” is an award for “outstanding contributions to the solution of a fundamental problem(s) of planetary geology in its broadest sense,” according to the Geological Society of America’s website.
Dr. Dyar is a third generation graduate of Wellesley College and a Planetary Science Institute senior scientist, as well as the Department Chair and Kennedy-Schelkunoff Professor of Astronomy at Mount Holyoke College. Dr. Dyar’s research focuses on how hydrogen and oxygen are distributed throughout the solar system, especially in terrestrial bodies such as the Earth, the moon, Mars and meteorites.
Dr. Molly McCanta said in her award citation that “such a high research out-put, without graduate students, on top of a full-time undergraduate teaching load is almost unheard of.... Her teaching and mentorship have helped foster many of the next generation of geoscientists.” Dr. Dyar’s work at Mount Holyoke College has given young female scientists the ability to assist and conduct research as undergraduates. Dr. Dyar has written more than 200 papers for scientific journals and has been awarded over 30 grants from NASA and NSF.
Dr. Dyar has been an advocate for women in geoscience, providing research opportunities for young women as well as acting as a mentor for her female students at Mount Holyoke. As a female scientist, as well as a mother of two children, Dr. Dyar has overcome harassment at several universities. She recalled that at “the University of Oregon... I was the second woman faculty member ever to be hired as tenure-track in the sciences. My first office there was in the basement of a teaching building (away from all the other faculty), and my first lab was literally in a janitor’s closet.” Despite this, she continued to teach and her research grew, work- ing with science teams and institutions to develop researching techniques.
She left her job at West Chester University in Pennsylvania to be closer to her young children, working as a part time faculty member at several universities before being hired at Mount Holyoke College. Dr. Dyar said that her reception of the G.K. Gilbert Award signifies that “you can put your family and students first and your career a distant third, and still make fundamental and lasting contributions to science.” Dr. Dyar has been able to have both the family and career she wanted while inspiring and assisting students.
In her acceptance speech, Dr. Dyar explained: “many times, I was tempted to drop out of science. But I was motivated by my desire to give the next generation what I myself so badly lacked: a helping hand. I had so few role models! And I truly wanted to make things better for the next generation.” Dr. Dyar’s extensive work at Mount Holyoke, through teaching and research, has given many young women the inspiration to pursue work in the field of geoscience. Her extensive research work which earned her this prestigious award has also enhanced the education of many young women.