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Eduard Jean Louis Wenk, 1907-2001

Eduard Wenk died peacefully at Basel on October 19, 2001,closing a full life devoted to crystalline geology.Born in Basel on November 4, 1907, Wenk was prominent member of a generation to whom we are indebted for their recognition and investigation of the classical metamorphic belt of the Central Alps. As a broad-scope, field-based researcher, Wenk leaves behind a rich scientific opus that will be respected by many future Alpine geologists.

Having grown up close to the Jura mountains, Wenk developed an early interest in paleontology and botany. For his future research, however, a field campaign in 1929 with Heinrich Preiswerk in the Central Alps was crucial in shaping his future career. Wenk choose to work on crystalline rocks and, for his thesis, joined a group of doctoral students in the Silvretta mountains with Fritz Spaenhauer, Albert Streckeisen and Peter Bearth. Of great influence was a study visit with Bruno Sander to Innsbruck where he learned the methods of structural and fabric analysis.

Having taken his doctorate degree in 1934, Wenk was privileged to work with Helge Baklund at the University of Uppsala. There he met other famous geologists like Sederholm, Eskola, and Wegmann. A paper written during this time became a classic, in which Wenk, by applying petrofabric analysis, proposed the genesis of banded gneisses by metamorphic differentiation. At Uppsala, Wenk also had the chance to participate in a Lauge Koch Greenland expedition. He later participated in six additional trips to Greenland during the 1950s. From1936 to 39, Wenk spent happy years in the Borneo bush, working as a Shell geologist. There he worked, whenever possible, barefoot.Two neogene molluscs from Wenk`s Borneo collection were named after him:Tibia wenki and Barbatia wenki.

In 1939 Wenk married Martha Heussi (of Glarus, Switzerland) who had traveled under dramatic circumstances on the day of the invasion of Holland to meet him there. The couple had two sons , Hans Rudolf and Caspar. As WWII prevented a return to Borneo, Wenk returned to Switzerland – working first with Paul Niggli at Zurich and then later at the University of Basel, where he became full professor in 1952 and remained until his retirement in 1975.

Based upon petrofabric work, Wenk had already recognised the young age of crystallisation in the Central Alps as early as 1943. In 1955, he published a map of minor structures of this area which he proved to be in common for the basement as well as for the metamorphosed Mesozoic rocks. By demonstrating that the crystallisation outlasted the formation of structures, Wenk created the basis for the mapping of Alpine isogrades. Using the universal stage method he was the first to map isogrades of plagioclase composition. This work also led to profound studies on the relationship between optics, composition and structure of feldspars and resulted in a book with Conrad Burri and Robert Parker on this subject.

In recognition of his scientific work, Wenk was elected a foreign member of the Geological Society of London in 1962, was awarded the Gottlob Abraham Werner Medal of the German Mineralogical Society in 1973 and the Steinmann Medal of the Geologische Vereinigung in 1978. In 1962, a complex barium, calcium silicate – sulphate of the cancrinite group was named Wenkite in his honour.

Eduard Wenk`s personality was characterised by a fine sense of humour, modesty and discretion. However, during his unforgettable annual Punch and Judy show at the Institute, he always became very outspoken in commenting upon Swiss geological events of the year. Also in the field, around the evening camp fire, he always had everyone‘s full attention when he told his fascinating stories of adventures with tigers at Borneo, polar bears in Greenland and horrible thunderstorms in the mountains.

Eduard Wenk will always be remembered as a great Alpine geologist – and human being.

Volkmar Trommsdorff