Heinrich Holland, Father of Modern Economic Geology, Dies at 84

Heinrich Holland, a scientist who made major contributions to research about the Earth’s geochemistry, died in Wynnewood, Pa. May 21 after a long battle with cancer. He was 84.

Born in Mannheim, Germany in 1927, Holland was Jewish and escaped Hitler’s regime with his younger brother just prior to the beginning of World War II.  The boys were taken to England via the Kindertransport and were adopted.  They were later reunited with their parents and younger sister in the Dominican Republic.  The family travelled to the United States in 1940 and settled in Kew Gardens in New York.

In 1946, Holland received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry with high honors from Princeton University at the age of 19. He served in the U.S. Army prior to entering graduate school at Columbia University, where he earned a master’s degree and doctorate in geology. At Columbia he worked with Laurence Kulp as part of a group of graduate students who went on to become leading figures in geochemistry. He served on the faculty of Princeton University from 1950 to 1972, rising from the rank of instructor to full professor. In 1972 he moved to Harvard, where he later became the Harry C. Dudley Professor of Economic Geology. In 2006 he retired from Harvard and became a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, where he remained active in research and writing until his death.

During his career, Holland held visiting appointments at the Universities of Oxford, Durham, Hawaii, Heidelberg, Penn State, Imperial College, London, and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and his numerous awards included the V.M. Goldschmidt Award of the Geochemical Society, the Penrose Gold Medal of the Society of Economic Geologists, and the Leopold von Busch Medal of the Deutsche Geologische Gesellschaft.

In the 1950s and 60s, geochemistry blossomed with the advent of  new techniques and the application of quantitative physical chemistry to geologic problems. Holland’s early papers on the application of thermodynamic data to the origin and formational processes of hydrothermal deposits of copper, zinc, lead, silver and other metals earned him the title “father of modern economic geology.”   His work and that of his research group on the chemical evolution of the atmosphere led to the theory of a great oxidation event about 2.4 billion years ago in which oxygen levels rose to approximately their present-day values. The paradigm is now conventional wisdom.  Holland also co-wrote a popular undergraduate text “Living Dangerously,” which addressed questions of resource depletion and environmental degradation.

Known to his friends and colleagues as Dick Holland, he enjoyed talking about new ideas and was known for his enthusiasm for discussion and debate. His students and colleagues recall him as a warm person who cared deeply about relationships. He even hosted weddings at him home and served as father of the bride for several students.

Holland was pre-deceased by his wife of 57 years, Alice Tilghman Pusey Holland, in November of 2010, and also by their youngest son, Matthew Tilghman Holland, in February of 2004. He leaves behind three children: Henry Lawrence Holland of West Windsor, Anne Liebrecht Holland of St. Helena, California, and John Pusey Holland, currently of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; grandchildren Benedict Merwyn  Holland, Esther Holland Rhoades, Nathaniel Chase Holland and Samuel Denison Holland, younger brother Hans Joachim Holland of Salt Lake City, Utah; and younger sister Anne Holland Hohenemser of Eugene, Oregon.

In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations be forwarded in Memory of Heinrich D. Holland to The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum or the National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Human Rights. A memorial event will be announced later this year.