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Friedman: A Powers' Connection

A Close Link With the Legacy

For several decades now, there has been a special, symbiotic relationship between Gerald Friedman and the legendary Sidney Powers.

No, it's not that Friedman personally knew Powers. Powers had already died while Friedman was still a child living in his boyhood home of Berlin, Germany.

But in 1964, Friedman -- a geologist with a keen interest and respect for the history of his profession -- moved to Troy, N.Y., on the banks of the Hudson River.

Troy, as fate would have it, was the boyhood home and is the final resting place of Sidney Powers.

Troy also was a center for the industrial revolution with shipbuilding, iron and steel mills abounding there years ago. The Powers' family name is sprinkled throughout the city on schools and parks.

"His grave is within a 25-minute walk of my house," Friedman said, "so we visit it quite often."

Indeed. And seeing the need for an unofficial keeper of the flame that is a link to geology's storied roots, Friedman began to take geology students there on field trips, in part because the cemetery is located in an important geological setting -- a glacial outwash, the preferred setting for cemeteries since the ground is easy to shovel and there is no rock.

But the field trips also existed to celebrate a giant of the profession.

Those trips continue today -- and in leading them, Friedman has helped keep Powers' legacy not just alive, but important to new generations of geologists.

"I feel close to him and the Powers family," he said. "I show this when I give tours of the town."

In praising Powers, Friedman has himself become known as one of the profession's best at keeping the science of geology alive for future generations.

Image Caption

Sidney Powers medalist Gerald Friedman leading students on a field trip near Troy, N.Y. Photo courtesy of Sue Friedman.

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For several decades now, there has been a special, symbiotic relationship between Gerald Friedman and the legendary Sidney Powers.

No, it's not that Friedman personally knew Powers. Powers had already died while Friedman was still a child living in his boyhood home of Berlin, Germany.

But in 1964, Friedman -- a geologist with a keen interest and respect for the history of his profession -- moved to Troy, N.Y., on the banks of the Hudson River.

Troy, as fate would have it, was the boyhood home and is the final resting place of Sidney Powers.

Troy also was a center for the industrial revolution with shipbuilding, iron and steel mills abounding there years ago. The Powers' family name is sprinkled throughout the city on schools and parks.

"His grave is within a 25-minute walk of my house," Friedman said, "so we visit it quite often."

Indeed. And seeing the need for an unofficial keeper of the flame that is a link to geology's storied roots, Friedman began to take geology students there on field trips, in part because the cemetery is located in an important geological setting -- a glacial outwash, the preferred setting for cemeteries since the ground is easy to shovel and there is no rock.

But the field trips also existed to celebrate a giant of the profession.

Those trips continue today -- and in leading them, Friedman has helped keep Powers' legacy not just alive, but important to new generations of geologists.

"I feel close to him and the Powers family," he said. "I show this when I give tours of the town."

In praising Powers, Friedman has himself become known as one of the profession's best at keeping the science of geology alive for future generations.

And now his link with Powers is becoming official and complete. Friedman is being honored this year as the recipient of the Sidney Powers Memorial Award, AAPG's highest honor.

The award will be presented April 16 during the opening ceremony of the AAPG annual meeting in New Orleans.

First Steps

Friedman, 78, is being honored largely for his continued efforts to keep the science of geology alive for coming generations.

A one-time employee of Amoco, Friedman began conducting short courses for geologists all over the world in 1964 -- a business he continued until the start of this year.

Today he teaches at the City University of New York, instructing both graduate and undergraduate students in geology. And although he works some days in Manhattan, he maintains several offices.

"I have no time to retire," he said.

His primary residence remains in Troy, where he has his main research lab. It consists of a 25,000-square-foot facility with editorial offices and a lecture hall for students.

In Manhattan, he teaches doctoral students in the City University of New York's Ph.D. program in Earth and Environmental Sciences for the Graduate School and University Center.

And at Brooklyn College, he teaches undergraduates and master's degree candidates.

"Now I'm working mostly with students and editing several journals," he said. One of his projects is the editing of the international journal, "Carbonates and Evaporates."

A native of Berlin, Germany, Friedman moved to London in 1938 just before the start of World War II.

"I was a very young child when I got interested in the environment, in animals and ecology," he said.

His grandparents were members of the Zoological Society, so he often went to the zoo and observed animals in open enclosures. But something a little unexpected started to happen: while watching the animals in their natural habitats, he became interested in the rocks in those habitats.

Later, at about age 13, he started attending geology lectures. His fascination with rocks continued into his college years, where he narrowed his interest to specialize in petroleum geology.

As an adult, he immigrated to the United States and earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University in New York City.

But always the man of the world, Friedman also earned a Doctor of Science degree from the University of London -- in a ceremony much like knighthood, Friedman said. He kneeled and "the Queen Mother hooded me," he said, placing on him the special hood to signify the award.

Friedman also received an honorary doctoral degree in 1986 from the University of Heidelberg in Germany -- a prestigious degree awarded only twice each century.

Reaching Out

At the start of his career, Friedman worked as an assistant professor of geology at the University of Cincinnati. Later, he joined BP Amoco and moved to Tulsa, working in the research lab.

Eventually, he became an academic and consultant, where he said he "specialized in training people to solve their own problems."

From 1964 through 1999 he taught some 10,500 geologists in short courses, on every continent in the world except Antarctica.

"I kept track of how many students I taught," he said. "We included both courses in the field and in the lecture hall."

In South America, he conducted field trips for students to the islands off Venezuela. Other field trips led him to the Bahamas.

He can speak four languages -- English, German, French and some Spanish.

From 1964 to 1984, Friedman was a professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.

As a writer, Friedman has authored or co-authored more than 300 scientific papers. His "Principles of Sedimentology," co-authored in 1978 with John E. Sanders of Columbia University, sold about 30,000 copies.

Friedman also has founded three international geologic journals: "Earth Sciences History," "Northeastern Geology and Environmental Sciences" and "Carbonates and Evaporates."

And his celebrity goes far beyond his reputation as a creative teacher and inspired author. Friedman also is considered a scientific leader in the field of applied sedimentology and its application to oil exploration.

Helping him maintain his hectic and successful pace is Sue, his wife and partner for 52 years. "We work together all the time," he said.

"She continues to work and travel with me all over the world," he added. The couple has five children, 18 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

And Friedman's penchant for teaching probably had an impact in his marriage, too.

"Although trained as a nurse," he said of Sue, "she became a geologist by osmosis."

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