Sunday, 16 June 2013

Doctor John Lindsay

Recently I had a discussion with Gordon Smith who has a wonderful photoblog on the New England. Gordon was curious about some conglomerate that he and a well-known bushwalking writer, Bob Harden had come across in the Oxley Wild Rivers and Carrai National Parks. During the discussion, it became apparent that most of the understanding of the geology of the area was established in the early 1960's by a student named John Lindsay. Later, Bob informed me that John Lindsay was well-known for his later work for NASA. 

John Lindsay
Photo of John Lindsay obtained from the Luna and Planetary Institute
On occasions I've posted short blogs on individual geologists and given John Lindsay's background I thought it worth doing the same for him.

John was born in the middle of World War 2 in January 1941. I don't know where he was born or what schools he attended but his tertiary education was in sedimenary geology with a solid background in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and statistics, earning his Bachelor of Science Degree (with Honours) in 1962 and Master of Science degree in 1964 from the University of New England.

During his time at UNE, John completed mapping and research projects which identified anomalous terrestrial rocks in a terrain that was mainly of marine origin. He worked in an area that was very difficult to understand because it was so broken up into different blocks by numerous faults. This is the area that is the gorge country between Kempsey and Walcha which includes the Oxley Wild Rivers and Carrai National Parks. To the best of my knowledge this day the geology of the area has not advanced much since John's work. This area was the subject of my discussion with Gordon Smith and Bob Harden.

Following his UNE study, John moved to the United States where he studied for his PhD at Ohio State University. Following his PhD John obtained a position with NASA in the Apollo Program where he was involved in Luna mission planning and the training of astronauts. John’s other professional background also included positions as Research Scientist at the Marine Science Institute of the University of Texas, Program Manager at Exxon Production Research, Adjunct Professor at Oxford University, and NRC Senior Research Associate at the Astrobiology Institute at NASA Johnson Space Center. While he was at NASA John studied extreme environments on Earth as analogues for extra-terrestrial environments. This lead him to become an authority on aspects of Antarctic geology.

John also maintained contact with Australia and held an academic position at La Trobe University in Victoria in the 1970's and joined the Bureau of Mineral Resources in Canberra in 1984. He spent much of his time developing a deep understanding of the inland Australian sedimentary basins and the ancient sedimentary rocks of the Pilbara. His works on the Pilbara rocks in particular helped us to learn about the very earliest life on earth.

John contributed not just to our present understanding of geology but also to life on earth and even the search for life in the universe. From what I have read he also was held in high regard with those that worked with him.

John died in the United States from cancer in June 2008.


Much of the information I have about John Lindsay was obtained from his Luna and Planetary Institue Obituary and the dedication of the book Earliest Life on Earth: Habitats, Environments and Methods of Detection by Golding& Glickson (2011). However, I've used a few internet sources that I seem to have misplaced.

*Golding, S., Glickson, M. 2011. Earliest Life on Earth: Habitats, Environments and Methods of Detection. Springer.

A list of John's published papers, conference proceedings etc. can be found at this Luna and Planetary Institute webpage:

A list of his most recent papers can be found here:


  1. Hi Jim,
    After a few years of not viewing your blog I had a few moments to spare and decided to see what is happening in your life. The third blog I read is on a very old friend of mine, John Lindsay. I worked with John's wife Kay, also a UNE graduate, for some 13 years in Biosecurity Australia. Kay obtained her PhD in the USA and was quite well known as an Entomologist. Unfortunately Kay was taken by cancer in Apr 2001 after a long and courageous fight. She was only 59. After Kay’s death John sold his home in Duffy, ACT and moved back to the USA. Their home was completely destroyed in the 2003 bushfires. Kay’s home town was Tamworth and she was from the long established and well known Chaffey family in that district. Incidentally, Kay and two others were the first females ever to set foot on the South Pole. I was quite saddened to read that John has also passed away. I lost contact with him after he moved away from the ACT but often wondered where he was and what he was doing. The Lindsay team made quite a significant contribution to science in Australia.
    John Caling

    1. Hi John,

      I've forwarded your comment on to Jim Belshaw who I think would be very interested in your account (as well as me). Thanks for taking the time to share this story. The Lindsay's certainly were groundbreaking in their fields!

  2. Hi Rod,
    Sorry about the mix-up of blogs and thank you for sending it onto Jim.
    John Caling

  3. Hi John and thanks, Rod. John, I didn't know that she was a Chaffey. I suppose that it's inevitable, I know that it it, but it still makes me sad.