Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department Celebrates 50 Years - Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences - Purdue University Skip to main content

Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Department Celebrates 50 Years


Writer(s): Logan Judy

Established in 1967 as the Department of Geosciences, the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences has enjoyed fifty years of excellence across its wide range of disciplines.  This week, it welcomes alumni to campus to celebrate its successes, and to reflect on their time at Purdue.

One of the alumni returning to campus is Bill Reid (M.S. ’72 Economic Geology), who has fond memories of his time as a student.

“A career discovering ore deposits, building mines, providing employment and careers for many people, and improving the standard of living where we could, are the result of two dynamic professors, Bill Pullen and Don Levandowski,” Reid said.  “That and what is now the EAPS Department at Purdue helped a college student decide on a career that has been very rewarding.”

Many EAPS alumni went on to have fulfilling and lucrative careers in the energy industry, some founding their own successful companies.  Several atmospheric science alumni moved into broadcast meteorology roles, as well as research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Dr. Philip Smith, faculty emeritus in atmospheric science, thinks fondly on the years he watched program grow.

“I spent 42 wonderful years working with wonderful students and colleagues,” Dr. Smith said.  “Just seeing how this program has grown over the years makes me the proudest.”

In 1985, the department was renamed from the Department of Geosciences to the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS).  With this change came a new era in the department, embracing interdisciplinary research.  Currently, there are joint faculty appointments with several other departments, including Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Statistics, Agronomy, and Agricultural and Biological Engineering.  One of the jewels of EAPS research is the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Lab (PRIME Lab).  It is jointly managed by EAPS, Physics, and Chemistry, and has been named a national facility by the National Science Foundation.

“During my time at Purdue, PRIME Lab has grown from a fledgling accelerator mass spectrometry facility to one of the best AMS labs in the world,” said Dr. Darryl Granger, EAPS professor and associate head, who co-manages the lab.  “I’ve had amazing opportunities to work on interesting research problems across the globe.  I’ve studied caves on five continents and dated early human evolution in South Africa, China, and Europe.”

Even before the addition of the planetary science program, EAPS made its mark supporting NASA’s mission of discovery.  In 2009, EAPS alumnus Dr. Andrew Feustel (B.S. ’89, Solid Earth Sciences; MS. ’91, Geophysics) served on the final mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope, and on the space shuttle Endeavour’s final flight in 2011.  He is currently training for International Space Station Expeditions 55 and 56, which launch in March 2018.

“My time at Purdue helped me prepare for my career, and I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who believed in and supported me,” Dr. Feustel said.  “I hope my work reflects positively on the school and further reinforces what a great learning institution it is.”

In 2012, the Department changed its name once again to the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, to reflect its expansion to research in planetary formation, geology, and impact cratering.  Since its inception, the undergraduate planetary science degree has attracted more than 40 students in just four years. 

The Department looks forward to the next fifty years, with new initiatives, engaging its students in cutting-edge research, and the continued success of its alumni.  As author Arthur C. Clarke once remarked, “The one fact about the future of which we can be certain is that it will be utterly fantastic.”

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