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We are all scientists

Former head of European Research Council reflects on time at Memorial

Campus and Community

By Kelly Foss

Dr. Donald Dingwell (B.Sc.(Hons.)’80) says there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about Newfoundland and Labrador, its story and its place in the world.

Currently a full professor and chair of mineralogy and petrology, and director of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Munich, Dr. Dingwell grew up in Corner Brook and graduated from Memorial University in 1980 with a B.Sc.(Hons.), majoring in Earth sciences (geology/geophysics).

“I was a member of the initial cohort at the West Coast College in Corner Brook,” he said. “That was an enormous privilege and I would especially thank my professors there from physics, chemistry, mathematics and geology, especially Gary Pedersen and Bill Iams (PhD’77).”

Major adjustment

For the fourth semester of his program, Dr. Dingwell moved to St. John’s. He says he found the transition to the east coast of the island the first of many major adjustments, both organizationally and personally.

“There I was adopted by Hugh Miller (B.Sc.(Hons.)’68, M.Sc.’70) and then rapidly fell under the spell of the world class members of the Department of Earth Sciences, who are too numerous to list here,” said Dr. Dingwell. “Of course, Dave Strong (B.Sc.’65, Hon. D.Sc.’91), together with Hugh, was my mentor for my B.Sc. thesis and he opened up vistas to me marvellously.”

A fascination for rocks, glass, melting and experiments, as well as the influence of many teachers in Corner Brook and St. John’s, drew him to the field. He went on to complete a PhD in geology in 1984 from the University of Alberta under the supervision of Dr. Chris Scarfe.

Freedom of research

“In terms of content, I was inspired by the problems of Earth science and fascinated by the materials that control the Earth’s behaviour,” said Dr. Dingwell. “In terms of path, it was not so well planned, but I tremendously enjoy the freedom of research in an academic setting where one is basically also responsible for setting a research agenda.

“Studying science convinced me that we are all scientists – what I mean is that the scientific method is an intrinsic part of being human, and the freedom of research and the contributions of science explain our past and secure our future,” he added

Previously, Dr. Dingwell served as secretary general of the European Research Council and in 2020 he became an officer of the Order of Canada.

In his free time, he tries to understand history and “what it can tell us about where we are today and where we might be headed” and at work he enjoys the freedom of pursuing new ideas, which explains his advice to current Memorial students.

“Never follow the crowd – always go your own way.”

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