Catching up with MIchael Arthur and Tom Murphy

Kelsey Bradbury, Research Unplugged intern
October 19, 2010

How did you first become interested in geosciences?

Murphy: I have been interested in geosciences since before I went to college in the late seventies. I have always been involved with educational activities in the field of natural resources. Most recently, my involvement has been focused in the realm of natural gas with the advent of Marcellus development in PA and surrounding states.

Michael Arthur

Michael Arthur, Professor of Geosciences and Co-Director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research

Arthur: I grew up in Southern California in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. My childhood friends and I spent a lot of our youth hiking and camping in these mountains. I was always rather curious about the rocks that were exposed in narrow canyons that we clambered through then. My parents cultivated my interest in natural history and encouraged me in these pursuits, including my interest in surfing. Late in my high school years my parents moved us to a new house further into the hills. Had I been a geologist then, I would have known that our new home sat astride a fault that was part of the San Andreas Fault system. (This deficiency in my knowledge only occurred to me during college when I visited home, after I became a geology major.) When I began college, I majored in political science, struggling because I really didn't know what I wanted to do when I "grew up." Eventually, however, I registered for an introductory geology course; little did I know that this course was taught by two outstanding teachers and that it would change my whole attitude towards life. They soon led me to realize that geology was my passion, although they may not have realized that at the time. Had it not been for these great teachers and mentors, I might never have found my calling! I am always in their debt for their having pushed me in a direction I had not anticipated going and for their substantial support during my early college career.

What is the most fascinating aspect of your research?

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy, Extension Educator and Co-Director of the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research

Murphy: I find the impacts of the development on people and the communities in which they live to be fascinating. As a state, we are going through a transformational process; its impact will be life changing for many families as they experience it over time. Teaching into that broad public conversation, where many constituents are uneasy with change, is both challenging and rewarding.

Arthur: I would have to say that interactions with people, whether my colleagues, students, ordinary citizens, or employees of industry is most fascinating. I find people and their widely differing attitudes quite intriguing, but, most of all, I am fascinated with how much I learn from my students during our interactions in research.

What's on your desk right now?

Murphy: Paper, oh so much paper…

Arthur: Oh my—huge piles of paper, too many phone messages, manuscripts to review, assignments for my courses to correct, an apple, several bottles of water, two computers…if you mean my computer desktop, the many folders stuffed with files are set against a backdrop of the Ansel Adams photograph of Mount McKinley in the Sierra Nevada, with the dark Alabama Hills in the foreground, taken from the Owens Valley in California—a reminder of home.

What is the most intriguing place your research has taken you?

Murphy: My favorite was the northern wilds of Alaska. Or maybe it was the southern wilds of South Africa.

Arthur: So many places to choose from! Baffin Bay, above the Arctic Circle off of Greenland, Japan, Egypt, south Australia with its wine country and the outback…but, perhaps, Iceland was the most intriguing because my wife and I raise Icelandic Breed sheep and chickens, and the juxtaposition of a fascinating cultural history, glaciers and volcanoes, and farms on land astride the Midocean Ridge is awesome. Iceland is certainly among the most photogenic places I have visited.

When you're not working, what are your favorite pastimes?

Murphy: Is there a time when we don't have to be working? I missed that memo. Must be on the desk in all that paper! (I enjoy skiing with my family—on mountains around the world during the winter and in the Finger Lakes during the summer.)

Arthur: My wife and I have a farm in Penns Valley, and she sells wool, lamb, eggs, and produce at local farmers' markets. Any time between work and more work I spend with family, volunteering, or playing guitar and mandolin, and occasionally fly fishing on Penns Creek, which our farm nearly abuts.

What spot on Penn State's campus do you find to be most inspiring? Why?

Murphy: I am inspired more by people and their actions at the moment than a physical location. So I would say, in a more lighthearted way, that I am inspired by the arts at PSU in the many forms and locations where they appear on campus and off. The Arts Fest in July with the hundreds of artists that work so hard throughout the year to prepare is a particular delight. So are the Centre Stage productions which my wife and I find always find time in our busy schedules to attend.

Arthur: Strangely enough, the most inspirational place "on campus" to me is not on campus per se. I am thinking of the Larson Agricultural Research and Education Center, which is operated by the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. Why? Because to me it represents one of the critical roles that a land grant institution plays in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. I admire the miles of carefully tended and documented agricultural plots and think of the many hours that this research consumes, and the interactions between faculty, staff, students, and cooperative extension agents with the public towards outreach and education that result from it. We all benefit immensely from this Penn State activity. Is that not inspiring?!

Last Updated October 19, 2010