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College Names Domack to Environmental Studies Chair

Antarctic Researcher Will Focus on Student Engagement

Contact Vige Barrie 315-859-4623
Posted January 15, 2007
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Dean of Faculty Joseph Urgo has announced the appointment of Professor of Geosciences Eugene Domack to the J. W. Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Studies in Environmental Studies. The newly endowed chair, established this year by Hamilton alumnus and charter trustee Joel W. Johnson '65 and his wife Elizabeth B. Johnson with a $2.5 million gift, is the largest endowed professorship in the college's history. Income from the endowment will support the chairholder's compensation, benefits and a research program involving undergraduates.

"Eugene Domack is among Hamilton's most prolific and nationally recognized scientists," said Urgo. "He epitomizes Hamilton's teacher-scholar model, constructing a career that has him moving seamlessly from classroom to laboratory to fieldwork. We are pleased to name him as the inaugural Johnson Family Professor of Environmental Sciences, and we look forward to his continued contributions to the academic community at Hamilton."

Domack, who joined Hamilton College in 1985, studies the paleohistory of Antarctica's Larsen Ice Shelf. His research has focused on understanding how Antarctica's climate had varied over the past hundreds and thousands of years and how those changes shaped the continent, particularly its ice shelves. His work has also taken him to Africa and Greenland to study an ancient period in Earth's history, some 700 million years ago, when the entire planet was believed to have been covered in ice, the so called Snowball Earth. Locally, Domack studies the depositional history and environmental consequences of the Oneida Creek delta in Oneida Lake.

"The Johnson Family Professorship is a generous and welcome gesture which will boost the college's curricular focus on environmental sciences," said Domack. "I am extremely humbled by this award and hope to live up to the expectations of such an honor and make the most of the opportunities the professorship provides."

Domack has always made it a priority to include undergraduate students within his research strategy. Since 1987, he has taken more than 100 undergraduates to Antarctica from Hamilton and other colleges and universities. "The research funding provided with this professorship will allow increased student involvement in collaborative field or analytical research and conference experiences, appropriate to environmental and/or paleoenvironmental studies in an international context," explained Domack. International collaboration is a powerful venue for students to learn both the applications of the discipline and the cultural or social contexts of the issues they are investigating."

Having been funded continuously since 1987 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar Programs, Domack has also served on several NSF panel advisory boards. He has participated in 20 field seasons in Antarctica, 13 as chief scientist.

Domack was a 2004 Guggenheim Fellow and a Joint Oceanographic Institutions 2000 Distinguished Lecturer. He has been an invited speaker at more than 20 international conferences including the 1999 American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting. In 2002, he organized an international workshop on Antarctic Peninsula Climate Variability at Hamilton.

In 2004, Domack began a three-year study focused on determining if the collapse of Antarctica's Larsen B Ice Shelf was unique or part of a cycle that extends over hundred of thousands of years. His research revealed that the event was indeed unique. "Our work contributes to the understanding of these climatic changes -- where they are occurring first and with greatest magnitude and impact upon the environment," said Domack. During this study, he also discovered an underwater volcano as well as a vast new ecosystem revealed by the shelf's collapse.

His research findings have been published widely, including Nature, Marine Geology, Antarctic Science, and Geological Society of America Bulletin, and he has coauthored or co-edited four books, including The Earth's Glacial Record.

The students who have participated in Hamilton's Antarctica program say that Domack is a driven, motivated and inspiring mentor whose passion for research is obvious, and these students (usually geosciences majors) seem to share this same passion. Over the years, Domack has supervised more than 100 senior theses, 25 of which have appeared in peer-reviewed publications.

"I am professor today because of Gene's mentoring," says former student Matthew Kirby '94. "Without Gene, it is hard to imagine my life's path. As geology major, I was somewhat directionless for my first couple years. Everything changed my junior year when Gene offered me the opportunity to pursue research along the Antarctic Peninsula. What an experience! Sure, the science was great, but the life experience was priceless. After my Antarctic voyage, I returned to Hamilton with determination to pursue sediment-climate research in graduate school, and today, I am a professor of paleoclimatology at California State University, Fullerton."

Hamilton's environmental studies program explores complex connections between the environment and human life and culture through an interdisciplinary program. Students majoring in this program select a specific track to follow in the humanities, social sciences or natural sciences. Faculty members in biology, geosciences, government, economics, anthropology, philosophy and English, among others, contribute to this program, but the Johnson Family chairholder must be a faculty member in one of the physical science departments.

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