In Memoriam for Daniel F. Weill: Thoughts and Tributes


Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, 2119 Earth and Physical Sciences, One Shields Avenue, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA


Mineral Physics Institute, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York 11794-2100, USA


Earth and Planets Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science, 5241 Broad Branch Road NW, Washington, D.C. 20015-1305, USA


Earth Sciences Department, 100 Cascade Hall, 1272 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403-1272, USA


IRIS Consortium, Suite 400, 1200 New York Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, USA


    We are saddened by the death of Daniel F. Weill a beloved and highly respected member of our community who died on October 3, 2020 at the age of 88. Through his wise and balanced stewardship of federal resources he stimulated revolutionary initiatives to apply modern technologies to studies of the solid Earth.


    Dan (age 7) was already thinking two or three moves ahead. Photo taken at boarding school in Bois Gentil, Switzlerland, 1938.

    “Born in Paris, Dan loved France - its culture, food and varied geography. Our family has so many happy memories from their trips to France.” [Kathy Weill].


    Dan had a clear vision: achieving scientific advances beyond the incremental requires modern instrumentation enabling significant new observations that would otherwise be unattainable.

    Dan repeatedly demonstrated his ability to recognize projects of great potential and then to deftly usher these over hurdles by helping unite the scientific community and finding and managing the distribution of funds.

    As he helped create and sustain resources for facilities in geophysics and geochemistry, Dan placed significant confidence, respect and trust in the wishes and direction of the research community to provide the intellectual leadership to define the path forward. His style was not to lead from the front, by pushing his own ideas or personal agenda, but to challenge a coordinated research community to come forward with the best arguments for the resources that it needed to support broad-based research. He then worked quietly to help the community hone these arguments and develop the most compelling case for support. He used his position within NSF to help leverage limited NSF resources through interagency and international collaborations and private donations.

    Although much of the credit for these instrumentation facilities must go to the principal investigators, Dan was instrumental in helping the PIs to seek and obtain shared funding from other parts of the NSF, other federal agencies, and private groups such as the Keck Foundation. and other funding groups to cooperate with him. The primary beneficiaries of these efforts have been the PIs and the Earth science community in general, which have thus gained access to these world-class facilities.

    For his excellence in research and education, and in particular for his remarkable and distinctive service to the Earth science community as a program administrator at the Department of Energy (DOE) and NSF, Dan received the 2002 Edward A Flinn III Award of the American Geophysical Union.


    Photo of Dan Weill with other Flinn awardees, his NSF colleagues Sonia Esperança and Robin Reichlin [both awarded in 2015] and Bob Liebermann [awarded in 2012].


    Dan Weill had two professional careers. For 20 years following his Ph.D. at the University of California Berkeley, he had a distinguished research and academic career at the University of California San Diego and the University of Oregon. His research in geochemistry, petrology, and mineralogy spawned a large number of outstanding graduate students and postdoctoral associates. These include Yan Bottinga, Michael Drake, Richard Grieve, Rudi Hon, Stewart McCallum, William Leeman, Harve Waff, and John Longhi.


    Dan with graduate student Michael Drake at University of Oregon

    In 1983, Dan took a leave of absence from Oregon to serve in the Office of Basic Energy Sciences of the Department of Energy. While there, he worked with university and DOE lab groups to ensure that DOE had a high-quality Earth science component. He made comprehensive contributions while honing his skills as a program director. In 1985, Weill joined the Division of Earth Sciences (EAR) of the National Science Foundation as the first program director of the Instrumentation and Facilities Program, at a time when there was considerable debate on how to balance support among the needs for individual research, larger collaborative projects and for investing in advanced instrumentation and shared facilities. He proved to be a quick learner and developed rapidly into the ideal program director: one who seeks to understand the needs of the community, keeps his eyes out for potential initiatives, and then encourages scientists to formulate proposals that address their needs and aspirations.


    Dan with members of the Instrumentation and Facilities panel at meeting in Chicago in early 1990s.

    During his 16 years at NSF, Dan played a major role in improving the availability of advanced instrumentation which led to significant progress in modern geophysics and geochemistry research. These included the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS); the Global Positioning Satellite consortium of UNAVCO; the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry facilities at the University of Arizona and Purdue University; ion-probe installations at the University of California Los Angeles, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. the Absolute Gravity facility at the NOAA labs in Boulder; EAR’s first Science and Technology Centers (CHiPR-Center for High Pressure Science Research and SCEC-Southern California Earthquake Center); and the development of dedicated national synchrotron facilities through the Consortium for Materials Properties in Earth Sciences (COMPRES) and GeoSoilEnviroCARS (GSECARS).


    Although he was not involved in the initial formation of IRIS or UNAVCO, Dan’s early years at NSF were devoted to nourishing these fledgling community efforts as cornerstones of the Earth Sciences’ Instrumentation and Facilities Program. His stable support and encouragement provided the security that enabled long-term planning and rational program development and

    allowed these programs to become global leaders in high quality seismological and geodetic instrumentation and open data access and distribution. Through his careful stewardship and distribution of NSF investments and his support of national and international collaborations, he enabled the US academic community to have a major influence on the development, support and distribution of new instrumentation for portable and permanent observations in seismology and geodesy. His insistence on free and open access to accumulated data became the foundation for the democratization of research that allowed for integrated studies, exemplified by EarthScope, to flourish and produce results that have contributed to a much-improved understanding for the processes controlling the dynamics and evolution of continents. The archival resource preserved the data for a wide range of basic research and educational needs and the national and international missions for monitoring earthquakes and nuclear explosions.

    Towards the end of his career at NSF, Dan was instrumental in starting discussions about the opportunities to approach NSF for expanded facilities to build on the successes established by IRIS, UNAVCO and others. He encouraged the community to propose large-scale projects that could be candidates for the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account. This led to USArray, the Plate Boundary Observatory and the San Andreas Drilling project eventually coalescing into EarthScope, as a new coordinated program focused on understanding the structure, evolution and dynamics of North America. The success of EarthScope would not have been possible without the experience, in both instrumentation and community organization, gained under Dan’s support from the I&F Program. Results include much improved understanding for the processes involved in earthquakes, mountain building, and continental deformation, and insight into lithospheric instability, magmatic dynamics and, in general, the ability to conduct synoptic geophysical investigations at the large spatial scales relevant to most geological processes.


    Dan at Yosemite National Park in California, where he was attending the 1999 IRIS annual workshop

    Through these, and others initiatives that Dan directly or indirectly influenced, the US academic research community has been able to assume a leadership role in applying modern observational technologies to support Earth science research and education in the US and around the world.

    He had an eye for balance between program elements. Early in the development of IRIS he strongly encouraged, in fact insisted upon, the inclusion of a significant education and outreach program as a complement to the development of research facilities to both encourage the development of a scientifically literate next generation and to place emphasis on the societal relevance of the work being supported.


    Dan recognized that geochemistry is a field driven forward by analytical innovation, but that the next generation of instrumentation was beyond the funding levels typically provided to individual investigators at NSF Earth Sciences. To overcome this barrier, Dan was a master both in leveraging federal funding with support from private foundations and in convincing members of the research community that sharing their expensive analytical facilities would benefit both the communities they serve as well as their own research programs. The result was a number of “national laboratories” that included ion microprobes, accelerator mass spectrometers, and geochemical applications of synchrotrons that fostered a wide array of new discoveries in the Earth sciences. These facilities pushed geochemistry into concentration measurements at the atoms/gram range, allowed precise isotopic determinations in minerals at the spatial scale of a few microns, and expanded the application of isotope and trace element tracing and geochronology from the oldest materials in the Solar System to the processes that modify Earth’s surface over centuries to millennia.

    Dan was the consummate program director combining the ability to simultaneously seek the opinion of a wide swath of the research community, draw out the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments they presented, and see through specious, sometimes self-serving, viewpoints. With this background information, he would add his own vision to work with the community to construct plans that were not only fundable, but managerially successful, allowing geochemical facilities that had previously been considered out of reach not only to come into existence, but to be successful. In doing so, the new facilities drew into their user base a wider swath of Earth scientists who could benefit from what the techniques could offer, but did not have the technical expertise to manage a facility that could make the measurements they needed.


    The Great Wall meets the Great Weill


    Facilities for mineral and rock physics research that include the DOE synchrotron X-ray facilities at the National Synchrotron Light Source at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the Advanced Radiation Source at Argonne National Laboratory, enabled unrivaled technical advances. For the first time, using diamond-anvil cells and multi-anvil presses, the ultra-high intensity X-ray beams allowed diffraction patterns to be taken every few seconds of rock and mineral samples under ultra-high pressures and a wide range of temperatures. The new observations have led to a revolution in our understanding of the dynamics controlling the chemical and physical properties of materials.


    Dan and Margaret at US-Japan Seminar on High Pressure Research in 1996


Dan is survived by his wife Margaret, daughters Kathy and Michele, son Paul, grandchildren Jes and Ian and son-in-law Dean.


Dan and Margaret at Bandolier National Monument, New Mexico in 1997


Photo of Dan taken by his grandson Jes Smith circa 2007 for a beginning photography class.

We hope that this memorial captures how much he meant to his colleagues and friends, and how significant were his lasting contributions to his community. Dan’s personal

idiosyncrasies, philosophy of service and forthright friendship will continue to be part of our memories. Remaining grateful for his leadership and scholarly contributions, the research community will miss Dan Weill’s collaboration and support.