Epstein, Samuel, 1919-....

Alternative names
Birth 1919-12-09
Death 2001-09-17

Biographical notes:

Geochemist, California Institute of Technology. Expert in isotopic geochemistry using mass spectrometry. Died 2001.

From the description of Papers. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84317693


Samuel Epstein was born near Kobryn, Poland in 1919 and moved to Winnipeg, Canada with his family in 1927. After graduating from high school in 1937, he attended the University of Manitoba, where he earned a BS in geology and chemistry in 1941 and a MS in chemistry in 1942. In 1944 he received his PhD in chemistry at McGill University, where he conducted research on the kinetics of reactions involving the high explosive RDX.

Immediately after graduation Epstein joined the Canadian Atomic Energy Project in Montreal where he worked on rare-gas fission products resulting from the fission of U235.

In 1948, he joined Nobel Laureate Harold Urey at the University of Chicago on an oxygen isotope paleotemperature project that Urey was in the process of initiating. The period Epstein spent at the University of Chicago (1948-1952) was the beginning of his distinguished career in isotope geochemistry.

In June 1952, Epstein was invited by Harrison Brown to join a team of scientists at Caltech, among them Clair C. Patterson and Charles McKinney. This group formed the nucleus of what would become Caltech's geochemistry program. Epstein joined the Geology Division as a research fellow in geochemistry in 1952, was appointed Associate Professor of Geochemistry in 1954, and Professor of Geochemistry in 1959.

Epstein began his research on the utility of oxygen isotope data in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary related problems, as well as investigating the isotopic fractionations associated with the growth of plants and the formation of petroleum. He carried out important research on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, on isotope composition of hydrogen and oxygen in tree rings, and on the origin of meteorites, tektites, and lunar rocks and minerals.

Epstein was widely recognized for his scientific achievements. In 1976 he was elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was the recipient of the Day Medal of the Geological Society in 1976, the Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society and the Wollaston Medal, both in 1977, and the Urey Medal of the European Association of Geochemistry in 1995. During 1978-1979 he served as president of the Geochemical Society.

From 1984 until his retirement in 1990, Epstein held the position of William E. Leonhard Professor of Geology at Caltech. He continued his productive scientific work in meteorite geology and past climate changes until his death on September 17, 2001.

From the guide to the Samuel Epstein Papers, 1942-2002, (California Institute of Technology. Caltech Archives)


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  • Mass spectrometry--History
  • Isotope geology
  • Geochemistry
  • Geochemistry--Study and teaching


  • Geochemists--Archives
  • Geochemists


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