Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin

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Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin
Chamberlin in the 1870s
Born September 25, 1843
Mattoon, Illinois
Died November 15, 1928 (1928-11-16) (aged 85)
Nationality American
Fields Geology
Alma mater University of Michigan
Notable awards Penrose Gold Medal (1924)
Penrose Medal (1927)

Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin (Chrowder is /ˈkrdər/ KROW-dər)[1] (September 25, 1843 – November 15, 1928) was an American geologist and educator. In 1893 he founded the Journal of Geology, of which he was editor for many years.


Chamberlin was born September 25, 1843 in Mattoon, Illinois. When he was three years old his family moved north to near Beloit, Wisconsin. His father was a Methodist circuit minister and farmer. He attended a preparatory academy before entering Beloit College, where he received a classical education in Greek and Latin, while becoming interested in natural science. While a student at Beloit he directed a church choir and participated in athletics and debate.

After graduation from Beloit College in 1866, Chamberlin worked for two years as a teacher and later principal in a high school near Beloit. He was married to Alma Wilson in 1867.

In 1868–1869, Chamberlin spent a year taking graduate courses, including geology, at the University of Michigan to strengthen his scientific background. Subsequently, (1869–1873) he became professor of natural science at the State Normal School in Whitewater, Wisconsin. He joined the Beloit faculty in 1873, where he was professor of geology, zoology, and botany. In 1873 he also became one of several part-time participants in conducting a comprehensive geological survey of Wisconsin. His geologic mapping work in southeastern Wisconsin, a region mantled with thick glacial deposits, led him to recognize multiple episodes of glaciation during the Pleistocene. His terminology for glacial stages in North America is still in use, with minor modifications.

In 1876 Chamberlin became chief geologist for the Wisconsin geological survey, supervising the completion of the survey and the publication of the four-volume report, for which he authored sections on glacial deposits, Paleozoic and Precambrian bedrock geology, lead-zinc ore deposits, artesian wells, and soils. The project brought him national attention and led to his appointment as head of the glacial division of the US Geological Survey in 1881. He later was president of the University of Wisconsin (1887 to 1892).

In 1892 Chamberlin accepted the offer to organize a department of geology at the new University of Chicago, where he remained as a professor until 1918. From 1898 to 1914 he was president of the Chicago Academy of Sciences.

In 1899 Chamberlin proposed the possibility that changes in climate could result from changes in the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide.[2]

In 1905, Chamberlin and Forest Ray Moulton developed a theory of the formation of the solar system that challenged the Laplacian nebular hypothesis. Their theory, the Chamberlin-Moulton planetesimal hypothesis, received favorable support for almost a third of a century, but passed out of favor by the late 1930s. It ultimately was discarded in the 1940s by the realization it was incompatible with the angular momentum of Jupiter. A portion of the theory stating that smaller objects — planetesimals — gradually collided to build the planets by accretion is still well-regarded. From his theories and other geological evidence he concluded that Earth was much older than assumed by Lord Kelvin (ca 100 million years) at the time. His speculations about the source of energy for such a long-lived Sun were prescient, involving the ability of the Sun to somehow extract energy from the inner structures of the atom.

Chamberlin was awarded the inaugural Penrose Gold Medal of the Society of Economic Geologists in 1924,[3] and the inaugural Penrose Medal of the Geological Society of America in 1927.[4]

Chamberlin remained active professionally up until his death in Chicago on November 15, 1928.

His papers are housed at the University of Chicago archives and the Beloit College archives. The Beloit College archives also contain the papers of his son, Rollin T. Chamberlin, who was also a geologist.[5] There are buildings named for him on the Beloit College and University of Wisconsin–Madison campuses as well as a house in Burton-Judson Courts at The University of Chicago.[6] The lunar crater Chamberlin and a crater on Mars are named in his honor.

See also[edit]


Chamberlin's publications include:


  1. ^ Webster's New Biographical Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1988; ISBN 9780877795438), p. 1099.
  2. ^ Chamberlin, T.C., 1899, An Attempt to Frame a Working Hypothesis of the Cause of Glacial Periods on an Atmospheric Basis, Journal of Geology, Vol. 7. pp. 575, 667, 751
  3. ^ "Penrose Gold Medal". Society of Economic Geologists. Retrieved 15 May 2012. 
  4. ^ "Penrose Medalists". The Geological Society of America, Inc. Retrieved May 15, 2012. 
  5. ^ Beloit College Archives, "Thomas C. Chamberlin". 
  6. ^ cite web |url= House |accessdate=January 3, 2014

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
John Bascom
President of the University of Wisconsin
Succeeded by
Charles K. Adams