Renowned SMU seismologist Gene Herrin dies

Eugene T. Herrin Jr.Eugene T. Herrin Jr., an internationally respected seismologist and holder of the Shuler-Foscue Endowed Chair in SMU’s Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences, died of a heart attack on Nov. 20, 2010.

An SMU professor since 1956, Herrin is known for his pioneering work in nuclear surveillance. He discovered that certain wave generators, including explosions and earthquakes, create not only seismic waves but also infrasound waves. Based on that discovery, Herrin was one of the first proponents of using seismo-acoustic analysis to distinguish the difference between mining explosions, earthquakes and nuclear weapons tests.

Early in his career, he made seminal contributions in the areas of heat flow and earthquake seismology, including the development of the fundamental regional travel time curves still in use by the seismological community.

He played a significant scientific role in the development of infrasound detection of atmospheric tests and the design and implementation of a global seismic network for test ban verification and earthquake detection. He also made contributions to national security through successful and enforceable nuclear proliferation negotiations. In addition, he played an important role in the development of plate tectonic theory and the creation of array seismology to detect small earthquakes at great distances.

“Dr. Herrin’s work has played a critical role in establishing accurate worldwide monitoring of nuclear tests,” said Brian Stump, Claude C. Albritton Jr. Chair in the Huffington Department of Earth Sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. “His research was fundamental in creating the international monitoring network that enforces the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.”

As a consultant to Teledyne-Geotech for more than 50 years, Herrin played an important part in a successful university-industry relationship, said Jack Hamilton, retired Teledyne-Geotech CEO and engineer. “Dr. Herrin played an indispensable part in our company’s development of instruments used in nuclear test monitoring.”

Herrin’s first breakthrough in experimental seismology occurred in 1963 when he determined that the earth’s mantle is not laterally homogeneous as previously thought. He won the Grove Karl Gilbert Award from the Geological Society of America for this contribution.

A devoted teacher, Herrin supervised 25 Ph.D. candidates during his years at SMU. His students now play important research roles worldwide in the monitoring of nuclear tests, Stump said.

“I owe everything I am as a scientist to Dr. Herrin,” said Jessie Bonner, a senior scientist at Weston Geophysical who earned his Ph.D. in geology in 1997 from SMU. “The best thing about Dr. Herrin as a mentor is that he wouldn’t do the work for you. He would come down to the geophysics lab, grab a chair and we would work on the problem together. He would give me just enough information to solve the problem on my own.”

Dr. Herrin was honored with a chiming of the bells at SMU at noon on Nov. 29. A celebration of his life will take place at a later date.

> Read more about Gene Herrin from SMU News