EES Professor Wins Prestigious Geological Society of America Award

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Professor Alec Gates, of Rutgers University–Newark’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES), has received the Geological Society of America’s 2017 Public Service Award.

The award, established in 1998, honors contributions that have materially enhanced the public's understanding of the earth sciences, or significantly served decision-makers in the application of scientific and technical information in public affairs and public policy related to the field.

It is the latest award in a career full of them.

“This is quite an honor,” says Gates. “This is an international award, only one given a year. So to be recognized like that is amazing.”

Gates, who was named Distinguished Service Professor by the Rutgers University Board of Governors in 2016, is a geologist specializing in tectonics, with an emphasis on structural geology and defonnational-chemical interactions.

He has served in numerous top posts since arriving at RU–N in 1987, including as Chair of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department twice for a total of 16 years, as Director of the Graduate Program for a decade, and as Vice Chancellor for Research for four years.

During this time he has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of geology, earth sciences and environmental issues on the local, state and national levels. He has also made a major impact in the recruitment of traditionally underrepresented students in STEM fields and on geoscience workforce development.

For decades, Gates has served as Chief Scientific Content Advisor to both the Newark and Liberty Science Museums.

For the former, he developed the award-winning Dynamic Earth: Revealing Nature’s Secrets display, which opened in 2002 and continues to educate tens of thousands of visitors each year about plate tectonics, New Jersey geology, and the societal impact of geoscience.

He also helped develop the Newark Museum’s Dinosaur Day science festival, now in its eighth year and attracting as many as 8,500 attendees per day, making it by far the most attended one-day event in the history of the museum.

For the Liberty Science Museum, Gates designed an oil-game display as part of its
E-Quest: Exploring Earth’s Energy exhibit back in 1993. The display, which taught visitors about stratigraphy, structural geology and seismic reflection, is long gone, but the oil game lives on 23 years and millions of visitors later. Gates later adapted the game for use in K-12 classrooms.

Gates has also worked with the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, designing displays at the Bear Mountain Trailside Museum, along with the Geology and Iron Mining displays at the Senator Frank Lautenberg Visitor’s Center in Sterling Forest. These exhibits illustrate geologic mapping, the plate tectonic development of the region, and the accumulation of the vast iron deposits in the area.

He also obtained funding and designed an Iron Mine Trail at Sterling Forest, where hikers and school groups and recreational groups learn how iron is mined, processed and smelted. For this, Gates received the Palisades Award, the highest award by a non-park employee.

A resident of Cranford, NJ, Gates founded the Highlands Environmental Research Institute, which coordinates environmental research, and disseminates and promotes knowledge in conserving the natural resources of the environmentally critical Highlands Region that spans Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. This joint Rutgers University–Palisades Interstate Park Commission effort helped lead Congress to pass the Highlands Preservation Act, and New Jersey the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act, both in 2004.

In addition to his public-education work, Gates has also played a pivotal role in training and recruiting underserved minority students to STEM fields, including the geosciences.

Professor Alec Gates (center) with students at the 2014 GS-LSAMP conference at RU-N.

In 2006, he started the cradle-to-career Highlands to Piedmont Geoscience Scholar Program, supported through a $1.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Opportunities for Enhancing Diversity in the Geosciences (OEDG) Program.

The initiative includes a 4-week Summer Institute for 70–90 Newark-area high school students that is now in its ninth year and has garnered statewide media attention. Gates also developed several hands-on, applied geoscience exercises that he personally took to schools in Newark, impacting more than 7,500 students.

Gates also spearheaded and has been Executive Director of the NSF–funded Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GS-LSAMP).

LSAMP is a national initiative to recruit, mentor and support under-represented minority college students in pursuit of careers in STEM fields. GS-LSAMP was launched in fall 2009 with a $5 million NSF grant. Under Gates’ leadership, RU-N has been heading a consortium of eight schools including Kean University, New Jersey City University, Essex County College, Bloomfield College, Montclair State University, Farleigh Dickinson University/Teaneck, William Paterson University and Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

More than 3,000 students are participating in GS-LSAMP statewide. Nearly 200 of those are from RU-N.

In addition to the above work, Gates also regularly appears in the media to educate the public about geology and earth sciences, and served as the chief scientific expert in two Discovery Channel documentaries. He also appeared in an MSNBC documentary on the 2011 earthquake in Japan, and has written a top-selling encyclopedia of earthquakes and volcanoes (4 editions), a multiple award-winning encyclopedia on pollution, and a book of short biographies of famous geoscientists.

A native of Monsey, NY, Gates earned his B.S. at The State University of New York at Stony Brook, and his M.S. and Ph.D. at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Before joining the faculty at RU-N, he worked at Chevron USA in New Orleans as an exploration geologist, and as a visiting assistant professor at Lafayette College.