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The Peacock Medal


Martin PeacockThe Mineralogical Association of Canada (MAC) has honoured the late Professor Martin A. Peacock (1898-1950) by giving his name to its highest award. Peacock was a professor at the University of Toronto from 1937 until his untimely death from cancer in 1950.

Professor Emeritus Robert Ferguson (U. of Manitoba) and the late Professor E. W. (Les) Nuffield, both Ph.D. students supervised by Peacock, petitioned the MAC Council to recognize Peacock in this way, based on their contention that he was the undisputed `Father of Modern Mineralogy in Canada’.
Peacock joined the Department of Mineralogy, University of Toronto in 1937, at the invitation of A. L. Parsons. He came from Harvard where he had been working with Charles Palache and Clifford Frondel on the revision of Dana’s The System of Mineralogy.

Ferguson and Nuffield (prior to his death in 2006) listed five principal contributions by Peacock in support of their petition:

The two of us, Les Nuffield (1914-) and Bob Ferguson (1920-), as the last remaining of the four Ph.D. students of the late Professor Martin A. Peacock, make this admittedly very belated request to the Officers and Members of Council of the MAC to establish an award, medal or citation to recognize Peacock’s invaluable contributions to mineralogy in Canada in the earliest days of the modern research and teaching of our science. Peacock, a spare slight Scotsman, educated in his native country, joined the Department of Mineralogy, University of Toronto in 1937, at the invitation of A. L. Parsons. He came from Harvard where he had been working with Charles Palache and Clifford Frondel on the revision of Dana’s The System of Mineralogy. In this submission, we detail Peacock’s contributions which we regard as worthy of a continuing public recognition by the MAC, and which we feel justifies our thinking of him as the “Father of Modern Mineralogy in Canada.”

A detailed account of Peacock’s life including a complete list of his publications is given in his Memorial by Charles Palache, Am. Mineral., 1951, vol. 36, pp. 384-393.

Peacock’s five principal contributions, all intimately inter-related, can be summarized as follows:

  1. He served as editor of the Contributions to Canadian Mineralogy, the precursor of the Canadian Mineralogist, between 1942 and his death in 1950.
  2. He changed and radically advanced the nature of mineralogical research in Canada. Recognizing the essential part that X-ray diffraction (XRD) must play in mineralogical research, he arranged before such equipment was commercially available, for the construction of the first XRD generator and powder cameras in a geological setting in Canada.
  3. Recognizing the importance of the mineral industry to Canada, he and several of his Ph.D. students applied XRD methods to the characterization and clarification of numerous ore minerals.
  4. He was one of the first mineralogists to “build a bridge” between classical morphological and modern structural crystallography.
  5. He instilled in his students the highest standards of scientific enquiry, research and writing which his four Ph.D. students, who became professors of mineralogy at different Canadian universities, passed on to their students and who, in turn, helped to extend Peacock’s inspiration and values through successive mineralogical generations.


We expand on these five contributions as follows:

  1. One of Peacock’s most enduring contributions to mineralogy in Canada relates to the publication of our mineralogical journal. When he first came to the University of Toronto, the leading publication of academic mineralogical research in Canada was Contributions to Canadian Mineralogy (part of the University of Toronto Studies, Geological Series) with A. L. Parsons as editor. Parsons continued as editor until he retired from the university in 1941 when he persuaded Peacock to assume the duties. Thus, soon after his Toronto appointment, Peacock became involved with editing papers of mineralogical studies in Canada.In his capacity as editor of the Contributions as well as an internationally respected researcher, Peacock was able to arrange for the publication of certain key papers by Donnay and Bond as described in item 4 below.

    The university withdrew support for the Studies in 1948 but Peacock, who was president of the Mineralogical Society of America at the time, was able to persuade his council to devote one of the six yearly numbers of the American Mineralogist to Canadian papers; they were called Canadian Contributions. He edited these Canadian numbers until his untimely death in 1950. Canadian Contributions, edited by this time by L. G. Berry, continued as part of the American Mineralogist until 1955, with the Canadian Mineralogist coming into existence two years later, in 1957.

    The Canadian Mineralogist is recognized to be the continuation of the earlier Contributions and its volumes are so numbered. The Contributions to Canadian MineralogyUniversity of Toronto Studies have been designated as volumes 1 to 4 of the Canadian Mineralogist; the seven Contributions of the American Mineralogist as volume 5. Thus Peacock has a claim for distinction as editor of our journal, even though he never lived to see the existence of the Mineralogical Association of Canada and its journal.

  2. When Peacock came to Toronto there were literally no research laboratories, worthy of the name, in Canadian geology departments. Research tools consisted of microscopes, backed by facilities for making thin and polished sections, and sometimes a makeshift chemical laboratory. It is a fact that even in world famous Stanford University, where A. F. Rogers presided and accepted Ph.D. students, there were no research laboratories; the tools for research consisted only of microscopes.Except for a first rate chemical laboratory under V. B. Meen’s direction, this was also the situation in Toronto when Peacock joined the staff. He recognized that to be able to carry out modern mineralogical/crystallograhic research, (XRD) equipment was essential. However, such equipment was not commercially available in those early days of the late thirties and, in any event, research funds were extremely scarce. Undaunted by these circumstances, Peacock, with less than a thousand dollars at his disposal, set about building in 1937 an XRD laboratory —- the first one in a Canadian academic geological setting. He bought parts from various sources, begged a few, had some constructed and put together an apparatus that worked. He described the construction of his equipment in a paper entitled:

    X-rays in mineralogy; design of a serviceable apparatus. Univ. Toronto Studies, Geological Series, 1939, vol. 42, pp. 79-93.

    By modern standards the apparatus was primitive. The X-ray tubes, for example, hand-made in the laboratory and evacuated by a vacuum pump, lasted only a few weeks because the insides quickly became coated with metal and began “shorting.” They had to be dismantled and a new glass cylinder cemented with bakelite into the metallic base and cap —- a delicate operation that took a good part of a day. The new tube had to be “broken in” (rid of residual gas) over a period of several hours before it would keep running. This work was done mainly by his graduate students and it was good training. These were pioneer days and we, his graduate students, loved them.

  3. Peacock understood the importance of the mineral industry to Ontario and Canada, and so he concentrated much of his research interests on the ore minerals. The principal tool for studying these minerals at this time was the reflecting microscope. Many of the ore minerals look identical in this environment and the researcher sought to identify them with microchemical tests, at best a cumbersome and imprecise tool. But these minerals lent themselves to identification by X-ray powder diffraction studies and only a few grains, loosened with a sharp needle from a polished surface under the microscope, were sufficient to make the identification. He and his students went on to rescue many of these difficult minerals from obscurity, to establish them as sound species (e.g., cuprobismuthite, kobellite) and to found a number of new species (e.g., berryite, pavonite, nuffieldite, bambollaite). In all, he and his students published several dozen papers on the ore minerals. Together with students Berry and Thompson, he began assembling X-ray powder data with the object of constructing an atlas for the identification of the ore minerals with this new tool. Years after his death, this valuable atlas authored by Berry and Thompson was published by the Geological Society of America (Memoir 85, 1962, X-ray powder data for ore minerals: The Peacock Atlas).
  4. Peacock was thoroughly grounded and interested in classical morphological, geometrical and optical crystallography and the symmetry groups (point groups) of crystals, and he published several important papers on these subjects (e.g. On the crystallography of axinite and the normal setting of triclinic crystals, Am. Mineral., 1937, 22, 588-624). He also arranged to have published in Contributions to Canadian Mineralogy, important papers in these fields by other mineralogists/crystallographers, examples being Derivation of the Thirty-two Point Groups by J. D. H. Donnay (Contributions, 1942, pp. 33-51), and (Derivation of) The Fourteen Space Lattices by W. L. Bond (Contributions, 1946, pp. 9-20). By means of XRD, Peacock and his students were able to clarify the inter-relationships between the morphology on the one hand, and the underlying lattice and (space-group) symmetry on the other, of the crystals of many ore and other minerals. In this respect, he can be regarded as one of the first mineral crystallographers to “build a bridge” between older classical and modern structural crystallography.
  5. Another enduring and perhaps Peacock’s most important contribution pertains to his graduate students, and especially his four Ph.D. students who became professors of mineralogy and were privileged to transmit to future generations of mineralogical students, the enthusiasm for research and dedication to quality that he instilled in us. Most of us can look back to only a few teachers that made an important impression on us. In the lives of his four Ph.D. students, Peacock stood well out beyond and above any university teacher, as a supervisor of our Ph.D. programs and as a fellow researcher. We realized that the value of what he taught lay less in mineralogy than in his portrayal of the scientist. He had a scrupulous regard for honesty and accuracy in research and the results were transcribed in masterful English, characterized by clarity and brevity. He did not leave a task until he was satisfied he could carry it no further or improve on it. Peacock and his students were a tight little group in the U of T’s Mining Building, aggressively protective of the role of mineralogy in a world of geology. We were intensely loyal to him and he appeared to live for his association with us.The four graduate students who finished their Ph.D. studies with Peacock before his untimely death and the universities where they subsequently became Professors of Mineralogy were Leonard G. Berry (1914-82) (Queen’s), Edward W. Nuffield (1914-) (Toronto), Robert M. Thompson (1919-67) (UBC) and Robert B. Ferguson (1920-) (Manitoba). Each of us set up and expanded our own XRD laboratories and sought to pass along the values that Peacock had taught us. He changed our lives and through us, he had an influence on our graduate students and researchers who followed us into a variety of academic, museum, government and industry positions: Hogarth (U. Ottawa), Milne (Gulf Oil), Graham (Falconbridge Nickel), Gait (ROM), Grice (Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa), Trembath (UNB), Macek (Manitoba Mines Branch), Brooker (X-ray Laboratories), Gorman (U. Toronto), McAndrew (Australia), Kaiman (Mines Branch, Ottawa), Harris (Mines Branch, Ottawa), Wicks (ROM), McGregor (Manitoba Mines Branch) and Traill (GSC) to mention those that come readily to mind. Some leaders in Mineralogy in Canada and beyond today, who were attracted to our departments as Postdocs include P. Cerny and F. Hawthorne (both U of Manitoba).

IN CONCLUSION: We believe Martin Peacock’s achievements, manifested by a remarkable publication list of about 90 papers in the 1930’s and 40’s, are outstanding and unequalled by any other Canadian mineralogist until recent times. This is why we think he can be fairly regarded as the Father of Modern Mineralogy in Canada, and why we respectfully request the present Officers and Members of Council of the MAC to give serious consideration to the establishment of a prestigious annual award in the name of Martin A. Peacock.

The Past-Presidents’ Medal is awarded for “excellence in research to a scientist who has made outstanding contributions to the mineralogical sciences in Canada.” These words describe exactly what Martin Peacock achieved in his lifetime; moreover, he was a leader and a pioneer in Canadian mineralogy. The name —-“Past-Presidents’ Medal” —- is something of a misnomer. The name was not chosen by the past presidents at large and they are not asked to approve the selection of nominee. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, it misses the chance to recognize the achievements of one of our own. We suggest, therefore, changing the name of this prestigious award to: “the Martin A. Peacock Medal.”

September 24, 2005