Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 30, 1995

It is 'Reds,' like Johns, with an 's'

Wolman Recognized For Expertise
In Eclectic Array Of Disciplines

Ken Keatley
Homewood News and Information

     Ever the geographer, Baltimore-born M. Gordon "Reds" Wolman
believes there is a geographical component in the etymology of
his distinctive nickname.

     "I'm Reds with an 's' on it, and I've explained why quite
inadequately since I was old enough to know that people were
asking," said the bullhorn-voiced Wolman, a professor of
geography and environmental engineering at Hopkins for more than
40 years and a renowned expert in the fields of physical
geography and environmental policy. 

     "As far as I can discern, there are unknown geographic
reasons why there are some towns in the U.S. where there are kids
called Reds instead of Red. And Baltimore is one of them."

     By that or any other name, Reds Wolman is internationally
regarded for his work in an eclectic array of disciplines--the
study of surface earth processes, landscape evolution, the
effects of flooding on rivers, water quality, urban environmental
studies, human impact on environment, to name but a few.

     And he will be honored for his contributions by colleagues,
friends and former students during and after the Spring Meeting
of the American Geophysical Union, which will be held in
Baltimore Tuesday, May 30, through Friday, June 2.

     A highlight of the tribute will be a field trip on Saturday,
June 3, to Brandywine Creek, Pa., where Wolman conducted
extensive research in the 1950s for his doctoral dissertation on
the workings of rivers (including the rates and processes of
floodplain formation and the measurement of flow resistance in
rivers), a broad area of study known as fluvial geomorphology.

      "That small Pennsylvania watershed that he studied to
formulate his ideas and theories became known throughout the
world as the gauge against which the processes of all other
streams and rivers were measured," said John Costa, a scientist
with the U.S. Geological Survey and a former student of Wolman's.
"It would be difficult to overstate the scientific, technical and
philosophical contributions of Reds to the profession of
geography and geology."

      Also, a daylong special session of the AGU meeting honoring
Wolman's career will take place Friday, June 2, and will consist
of presentations and research papers on a variety of topics of
interest to Wolman, such as stream restoration, pollution
transfer and the effects of land use on watersheds. In addition,
a Human Geography Symposium in his honor, coordinated by Hopkins
professor of geography David Harvey, will be held on Sunday, June
4, on the Homewood campus.

     While appreciative of the events being held in his honor
this week, Wolman characteristically downplays the significance
of his work. "I'm not a great man," he said. That's an opinion
colleagues and former students challenge.

     Peter Wilcock, associate professor of geography and
environmental engineering at Hopkins, said Wolman's research
interests and enthusiasm for teaching have endeared him to
generations of students and colleagues.

     "He's an innovative, world-class scientist, who has made
lasting contributions to a remarkably wide range of subjects,"
said Wilcock. "Just as important, though, is the genuine and
active interest he takes in all those he encounters, including
students, colleagues and visitors."

     Wolman, who earned a bachelor of arts degree in geology from
Johns Hopkins in 1949 before earning graduate degrees at Harvard,
began his career as a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey
before returning to Johns Hopkins. 

     He chaired the Department of Geography and Environmental
Engineering from 1970 to 1990. His father, Abel Wolman, a
legendary figure in the fields of water research and sanitary
engineering, worked alongside his son as a professor emeritus in
the department until his death, at age 96, in 1989.

     "There's no question that my father's influence helped
stimulate my interest in the sciences and engineering," said
Wolman. "We began a conversation in those fields when I was 4
that continued until Pop died." 

     Wolman, who twice has served as acting provost of the
university, has published numerous articles and papers on his
research, and is the co-author of two books, including "Fluvial
Processes in Geomorphology" (1964). It is considered among the
most insightful and scholarly contributions to the field ever
written and remains a landmark in modern geoscience development.

     He has won numerous awards, and was elected in 1988 to the
National Academy of Sciences. He is a fellow of both the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, and is past president of the Geological
Society of America.

     Wolman has served in numerous capacities for professional
and community organizations, and is currently serving on the
National Research Council, the consultative arm of the National
Academy of Sciences. He is a board member of the Maryland Academy
of Sciences, and past chairman of the board of Sinai Hospital of
Baltimore and The Park School in Baltimore.

     When asked to reflect on his long and successful career,
Wolman spoke glowingly of the academic life.

     "I don't believe there is a freer existence than in a good
academic institution like Hopkins. The mix of teaching, research,
the variety that is possible ... not many occupations allow

     While he understands the intense scrutiny of academic
institutions in this new era of federal spending cutbacks, Wolman
noted that many issues--including environmental policy--require
long-term attention.

     "One of the dilemmas of social policy is that the attention
span of the political process does not accord at all well with
the characteristics of the environment. The environment is
forever," he said, grinning. "Good politicians have to do
something in less than the time scale of forever."

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