Joseph L. KirschvinkDivision of Geological and Planetary Sciences
Joe was born and raised in the Southwest United States, which does not necessarily explain his infatuation with geology and biology, but it helps. Rather than attending an undergraduate university on the East Coast, where all of the rocks are covered with green goo, Joe chose to pursue his undergraduate education in Pasadena, California, where the atmosphere itself in the early 1970s was capable of cleaning the rock surfaces to show the beautiful geology underneath. However, upon the advice of two mentors (one with his magnetic mind in the stars, and the other more mindful of the magnetic minerals made by microbes), he reluctantly agreed to serve time in the East among the Ivy leaves at Princeton for his Ph.D. Joe did this, however, by traveling through Australia for a year (he recently went back, and is shown here standing on the Hamersly banded iron formation), and by spending about 50% of this time as a graduate student somewhere "in the field". He abandoned his experiment with the East Coast in 1981, and has been on the faculty back at Caltech ever since.
Joe has a lot of fun creating "nutty" ideas like the snowball Earth, and confusing paleontologists by trying to convince them that the Cambrian explosion was caused by a series of interchange events in the orthonormal Eigenvectors of Earth's Moment of Inertia Tensor. (A good number of paleontologists actually know what a tensor is, and realize that a moment of inertia is not just what keeps them in bed in the morning ….) Joe even pretends that animals can predict earthquakes, just to keep his seismological colleagues on their toes. His major claim to being a paleontologist is his prediction and discovery of magnetofossils, which are not very useful for biostratigraphy but are wonderful as a Martian biomarker and for increasing the NASA Astrobiology budget.
Joe likes to swim and ski, and to explore the hot mineral waters produced by Mother Earth. He is married to a neurobiological electron microscopist, Atsuko Kobayashi, and they have two children (Jiseki and Koseki), whose names mean "magnetite" and "gemstone" respectively in Japanese. As a result, the children will probably grow up to be bloodsucking lawyers. And his family still doesn't know if home is in Pasadena or Osaka.