School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences

History of the GeoSciences at the Grant Institute

Natural History, 1770 to 1871

GeoScience was first taught in Edinburgh under the title of Natural History, Robert Ramsay being the first appointment to the Chair of that discipline in 1770. He was succeeded by John Walker, a Presbyterian minister in 1779. Amongst Walker's pupils were Robert Jameson, John Playfair and James Hall. Walker was followed in 1804 by the well known mineralogist Jameson, who literally lived in the Chair for fifty years. After Jamieson's death the post was held by Edward Forbes, the palaeontologist and oceanographer, for one brief year before he was succeeded by Allman in 1855.

The Grant Institute

Geology, 1871-1989

In the University College minutes for 1870, there is a record of a letter written by Sir Roderick Impey Murchison, Director of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom. Murchison observed that now Allman was retiring it was time that the Chair of Natural History was divided so that a separate Chair of Geology might be created. To further this end he proposed to provide an endowment of £6,000. The next day, the University received a further letter from Murchison in which he added that this endowment was conditional on the nomination to the new Chair of Geology being made by himself. The University then wrote to the Treasury asking for a grant of £200 per annum to make the Chair viable. The Treasury were prepared to provide this sum, but on condition that Murchison's clause regarding nomination be deleted.

In March 1871, Archibald Geikie presented his commission to the Senatus Academicus, as the holder of the first Regius (Roderick Impey Murchison) Chair of Geology. At that time Archibald Geikie was the President of the Edinburgh Geological Society and, coincidentally, Sir Roderick Impey Murchison was its patron. We do not doubt that, whatever the Treasury said, Murchison got his own way. Sir Archibald Geikie was succeeded by his younger brother James in 1882, and James Geikie by Thomas Jehu in 1914. Arthur Holmes succeeded Jehu in 1943 and was in turn succeeded by Sir Frederick Stewart in 1956. The current holder of the Regius Chair of Geology, Geoffrey Boulton, joined the Department in 1986.

The Geology Department was located in Old College until 1932, when it moved to a splendid new building at the King's Buildings site about 2.5 kilometres south of Old College. The new building, known as the Grant Institute in recognition of an endowment from Sir Alexander Grant, was opened by J.Ramsay Macdonald (Prime Minister) on 28 January, 1932.

Geophysics, 1969-1989

The Department of Geophysics was inaugurated in 1969 with Alan H. Cook as the first Professor of Geophysics. He was succeed by Ken Creer in 1973. Kathy Whaler, the current holder of the established Chair of Geophysics, joined the Department in 1994.

The Department of Geophysics was initially housed in a Victorian villa in South Oswald Road. From there it moved to a suite of rooms in the newly completed James Clerk Maxwell Building, which also housed the Departments of Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science, Meteorology and the University Computing Service.

Geology and Geophysics, 1989-2002

The formerly separate Departments of Geology and of Geophysics amalgamated in 1989 as the Department of Geology and Geophysics. In the same year the UGC Review of Earth Science designated the Department a Group 1 Mainstream Department and granted funds for major investment in new research equipment. A substantial new wing was added to the Grant Institute and opened on 20 May 1992 by His Royal Highness, Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh and Chancellor of the University. This has allowed accommodation of all staff and research facilities in one building.

At that time The Department of Geology and Geophysics was one of the largest Earth Science Departments in the United Kingdom. There were 34 full time Academic Staff, 41 Research Fellows and Associates, 30 Support Staff and 38 full time PhD students.

The Grant Institute, 2002 Onwards

On 1 August, 2002 the Department of Geology and Geophysics became part if the larger School of GeoSciences (for one year entitled the School of Earth, Environmental and Geographical Sciences) also including the former Department of Geography, part of the former Institute of Ecology and Resource Management, and the former Department of Meteorology, all housed in separate buildings. Today, The Grant Institute is the building housing those involved in research and teaching in Geology and Geophysics, and many similarly involved in Environmental Geoscience.