Gordon West

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Gordon West
Gordon F. West headshot.png
PhD university University of Toronto

Gordon F. West is a geophysicist who has made important contributions to the science of geophysics, both personally and through his supervision of generations of graduate and undergraduate students. Among other achievements, Gordon developed the theory behind UTEM (University of Toronto Electromagnetic Method) which has since been credited with the discovery of ten base-metal deposits. His research interests are much broader than just a subdiscipline of geophysics, and Gordon has contributed to theory, practice, instrumentation, and acquisition in the fields of seismology, electromagnetics, and potential fields. Through his efforts, the geophysics department at the University of Toronto has become recognized as one of the world centers of excellence in bringing together private sector, government, and university research in the area of mining geophysics. Gordon is also the co-author, along with Fraser Grant, of the classic geophysics textbook Interpretation Theory in Applied Geophysics which has been used to teach thousands of geophysics students over the past 37 years

Biography Citation for the Maurice Ewing Medal

Contributed by Nigel Edwards

Education and Early Career

Gordon West has spent most of his life at the University of Toronto. He graduated in engineering physics (1955) and, after a brief adventure in the exploration industry, returned to complete his PhD in 1960. He met his wife Katri while an exchange student in Finland—a critical event for the future fellowship of geophysics. He returned to Toronto and progressed from lecturer to professor and finally professor emeritus in 1998. He certainly has not retired, and is as active today as when I met him 30 years ago.

Gordon has brought to our community the originality of the physicist, the technical ability of the engineer, and the diversity and collaborative skills of the true earth scientist. His interests span electromagnetic methods, rock magnetism, tectonics and geodynamics, potential fields, crustal seismology, and cross-hole tomography. With Yves Lamontagne, he developed UTEM (University of Toronto Electromagnetic System), a method credited with multibillion dollar base metal discoveries. This research illustrates Gordon’s style! There is the initial very bright idea, an EM system with a triangular current waveform in the transmitter cable. (The temporal derivative of the magnetic field is a square wave: easy to measure with a coil, easy to process because of limited dynamic range.) There is the time in the laboratory conjuring with the electonics—Gordon in his element and at the peak of his creativity. There is the construction, field-testing, data modeling/interpretation and, ultimately, the setting up of Yves’ organization. In the early 1980s, Canada’s earth science community embarked on Project Lithoprobe—the multidisciplinary study of the origin, composition, evolution, and structure of the Canadian continental crust. Gordon became involved in a major way. He was instrumental in directing studies in Ontario and in creating a modern vision of the Kapuskasing Structural Zone through synthesizing diverse data sets. Gordon’s skill at this style of research explains why he is held in such high regard.

Professional Career

The family business of Gordon and Katri West is raising graduate students, about 80 at the last count from all over the world—Canada, England, China, India, France, New Zealand, South Africa, Finland, Australia, United States, Cuba, Mexico, Czechoslovakia... (Why were there so many students? Coursework did include preparing 2-kg explosive charges and blowing up some countryside. More interesting than quantum mechanics, I suppose. One hesitates to think how such actions might now be interpreted!) Student theses have been widely distributed and we still get requests for some of the tomes! Several involved writing complex electromagnetic and seismic software. Here’s a secret! Gordon’s last documented computer program was written in machine code on an IBM 650 1620. (His post-retirement enthusiasm for MatLab coding is just an anomaly.) The students—now populating geophysical industry, government, and academia everywhere— are uniformly devoted to their mentor. Many recall times at the West’s country “estate”—better known as Gordon’s Pond—with their families. And then there was the surprise retirement party, memorable for the many attendees who traveled great distances. Gordon can look upon his student legacy with great pride. Training these young people represents a gigantic contribution to our profession. Gordon has been an SEG Active Member for decades and published many influential papers in GEOPHYSICS and the volumes Mining Geophysics. They are recognized for clarity of thought and reducing complex results to often a single figure.

He was elected an Honorary Member in 1991 and the geophysics group received the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2000. Gordon was recognized by his Canadian colleagues in 1990 with the J. Tuzo Wilson Medal of the Canadian Geophysical Union.