Tuzo Wilson

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Tuzo Wilson
J. Tuzo Wilson headshot.jpg
BSc Physics, Math, Geology
PhD Geology, Geophysics
BSc university Toronto and Cambridge
PhD university Princeton and Cambridge

John Tuzo Wilson (1908-1993) was a Canadian geologist and geophysicist known for his seminal work in the field of plate tectonics, and was a recipient of SEG's Maurice Ewing Medal.

Biography Citation for the SEG Maurice Ewing Medal 1981 [1]

I am sure Dr. Wilson feels especially honored to receive this prestigious SEG Medal because of its direct relationship to Maurice Ewing, for whom all of us have the greatest respect and admiration. At the same time, the Society of Exploration Geophysicists can be commended for its good judgement in so honoring Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson, not only as a world-renowned earth scientist, but also because of his outgoing personality. Thus, we all know him as a geologist--a geophysicist--also as an extroverted entrepreneur of both theoretical and practical ideas. At the same time, we know him as an innovative and inspiring educator.

He has also been a pioneer investigator of tectonic activities, with special regard to continental drift, ocean bottom spreading, the geologic origin of the Hawaiian Islands, etc. So, no wonder he has been the recipient of many other awards--including the prestigious $50,000 Vetlesen Prize--while at the same time, he is currently the first Canadian to be president of the American Geophysical Union.

No doubt, his versatile state of mind, coupled with infectious enthusiasm and almost unlimited physical stamina, plus an easy ability to communicate--all surmounted by a natural and friendly desire to cooperate and share credit with others--have just naturally enhanced his visibility and laymen as well.

Family History

It can be assumed that this extroverted intelligence was inherited from his forebears, while at the same time were encouraged by his wonderful wife, Isabel. Dr. Wilson was born October 28, 1908, in Ottawa, Canada--his father John Armistead Wilson was a Scottish engineer. His mother, Henrietta L. Tuzo was a descendant of the French Huguenots who had settled in Virginia before migrating as Loyalists to Quebec after the American Revolution. His grandfather, Henry Atkinson Tuzo, was a doctor with Hudson's Bay Co. Being headquartered in Victoria, B.C. inspired Mrs. Tuzo and her son with a great love for the outdoors and wildlife. Mountain climbing became a popular avocation for the two of them. This was later recognized by naming Mount Tuzo, one of the mountains overlooking the Valley of Ten Peaks, near Lake Louise, for the adventuresome Mrs. Tuzo.


Dr. Wilson's formal education was also richly varied, as well as international in flavor. Thus, in 1930 he obtained a B.A. degree in physics and geology at Toronto, then a B.A. degree in 1932 in physics, math, and geology at Cambridge, then a Ph.D. degree in 1936 in geology at Princeton, followed much later by a D.Sc. degree in geophysics at Cambridge. Also, as one would anticipate, he has received eleven honorary doctorate degrees from Canadian and U.S. universities. A tremendous number of other distinctive awards include: Fellow of the Royal Societies of Canada and London; Officer, Order of the British Empire; Officer, U.S. Legion of Merit; Foreign Associate, U.S. National Academy of Sciences; and Honorary Membership in the SEG.

Professional Career

Dr. Wilson's prominence as a scientist can be linked directly to his unconventional childhood and the panoramic scientific vistas resulting from his love of globetrotting as an adult. Such travels have included many unusual experiences, such as being commander of an extensive military trek across the Canadian Arctic, followed by ventures in Antarctica, flights over the North Pole, then a ten-day train excursion across Siberia from Moscow to Peking, plus mineral reconnaissance flights over the Andes Mountains. At the same time, he was academically involved as head of geophysics at the University of Toronto from 1946 to 1967, where he became principal of Erindale College, a satellite unit of the University of Toronto until 1974.

Instead of retiring at that time, Dr. Wilson elected to accept a provincial government appointment as director general of the Ontario Science Centre. This unique institution features a "hands-on" type science museum. In line with his natural innovativeness, Dr. Wilson developed a dynamic operation which captures the interest each year of many thousands of young people, not only in the Toronto metroplex, but also in all remote areas of the province, with the aid of display vans and innovative teaching demonstrations. This is indeed a tremendously important enterprise in view of the generally reduced level of student interest in the sciences. Furthermore, a good idea just naturally inspires imitation and so today we find Dr. Wilson directly involved in planning similar science centers in British Columbia, as well as in Japan, China, and Australia.

In summary, I am both happy and proud to sponsor this meritorious and well-deserved award to Dr. J. Tuzo Wilson!


  1. Awards Citations of SEG (1998) SEG Press, Tulsa, Oklahoma p. 4.

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