News & Events

Fred Anderson remembered by former students

February 11, 2020

The following was sent to the VOLCANO and MSA listservs:

Alfred (Fred) T. Anderson Jr. - 1937-2020

It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Alfred (Fred) T. Anderson Jr. on January 15, 2020.

Fred was one of the most influential petrologists of his generation. He was incredibly creative and his work was always characterized by impressive attention to detail. He pioneered a multitude of methods to study minerals and glass in volcanic rocks that led to characterization of volcanic materials in unparalleled detail. His refreshingly open mind to new and controversial ideas allowed him to pursue truly innovative and transformative science over several decades.

The objects of Fred’s studies were volcanoes and their eruptive deposits. Primarily, Fred studied volcanic rocks to try to decipher the conditions and pathways of magma evolution. Most of his work focused on pre-eruptive conditions and differentiation of magma. But he also generated important data and ideas on the record of eruptive decompression and evolution of magmas on the surface after eruption. Starting with Fe-Ti oxides in anorthosites from Quebec for his PhD, Fred’s landmark work encompassed high-silica rhyolites to picrites, sampled in diverse places like California, Hawaii, New Zealand, Guatemala, Japan, and even the Moon. There were no bounds to Fred’s curiosity!

Fred was unafraid to use the most unconventional methods to accomplish the required tasks. He pioneered the use of a baseball bat to lightly crush pumice; he taught many of us to wrap pumice clasts in silly putty to measure their density; he used paper clips to rotate doubly-polished crystals bearing melt inclusions so the wafer thickness could be measured optically; and he separated glass from crystals by “winnowing” with water. Many of us tried to come up with better and more sophisticated methods to accomplish these tasks, only to find that Fred’s method gave the best results.

At the same time, Fred insisted on finding the right tool for each task. He did some of the first measurements of mineral and glass compositions using the electron and ion microprobes; he pioneered the use of Nomarski interference contrast microscopy to reveal zoning in minerals; he was part of very early efforts to use oxygen isotopes for geothermometry; he performed some of the first measurements of H2O and CO2 in glass inclusions via FTIR; and he was involved in some early work using x-ray computed tomography of pumice. He was a very early adopter of many novel analytical techniques.

This keen ability to combine creative thinking with new and detailed measurements at the microscale positioned Fred particularly well to make many conceptual advances in our understanding of magmas and their eruptions. He characterized magma differentiation by fractional crystallization; the role of magma mixing in magmatic systems; the role of volatiles in the evolution of magmas; and – importantly – he opened new doors to our understanding and he came up with new ways to study magmas. At the same time, he never insisted that his conclusions were right; in fact, he often thought they were likely wrong and was always open to considering alternative interpretations.

Perhaps most importantly, Fred touched many lives. He loved spending time with his family and enjoyed his roles as a husband, a brother, a father, and especially as a grandfather. He was director of undergraduate studies in Geophysical Sciences and the resident master of one of the undergraduate dorms at the University of Chicago for many years. He was an incredibly dedicated advisor, who always put his advisees and their interests ahead of his own. Fred was always humble to a fault and taught everyone around him to try to give credit where credit was due. Nothing could be called “clear” or “obvious”, because someone would inevitably find it unclear or far from obvious.

Fred’s humble nature and the fact that he always emphasized the accomplishments of his students, post-docs and colleagues over his own caused his brilliance to often fly under the radar. Nonetheless, Fred was a recipient of the 2001 Bowen Award from the American Geophysical Union.

Fred received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and his PhD from Princeton University – for the latter, working under the supervision of Robert Hargraves. After short stints at the University of Chicago as a post-doc – working with Bob Clayton – and with the USGS, Fred joined the faculty at The University of Chicago, where he stayed for the rest of his career, until he retired in 2005.

Fred’s unusual and caring style, his creativity and passion for science, and his quirky humor will be sorely missed. His indelible mark in science will not be forgotten. He never wanted the praise or the accolades. He would probably prefer if we stay diligent, try to be creative, and that we challenge our own biases in the pursuit of science. We lost a huge mentor, and this is a moment to remember and refocus on his teachings.

Guilherme Gualda
Ayla Pamukcu
Paul Wallace

The University of Chicago News released a piece in Fred’s honor, which can be found here:

Citation (by Charlie Bacon) and Fred’s response at the occasion of his acceptance of the 2001 Bowen Award can be found here:

A complete list of Fred’s publications can be found here: