Darby Dyar

Citation for 2010 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

Twelve years ago, Darby Dyar resigned a tenure-track position to join her husband, recently tenured at Amherst College, and to move her family to the Pioneer Valley. At that time, she was a rising star in Geology and Mineralogy, having received three major national awards from the Mineralogy Society of America. The then department of Earth and Environment and the Astronomy department seized the opportunity and arranged Darby’s appointment to Mount Holyoke. She gained tenure in 2002 and currently chairs the Astronomy Department.

Darby’s research focuses on understanding how oxygen and hydrogen are distributed throughout our solar system. She uses different spectroscopic methods to study and compare rocks that originated on Earth, on the Moon, and on Mars. Her expertise in specialized, some would say exotic, spectroscopic methods has attracted research collaborators worldwide. Since joining the Mount Holyoke faculty, she has published over 80 papers in refereed journals. (This is a lot.) She has published over 200 meeting abstracts, secured external grants totaling 3.8 million dollars for research, teaching and instrumentation, and supervised 25 senior theses. In six of the last seven years the coveted Five College Astronomy department prize for excellence in undergraduate astronomy research has gone to one of Darby’s students.

Although we are honoring Darby’s research today, when we solicited nominations for the Faculty Awards this year, we received a 57-page document nominating Darby for a teaching award! The document contains pages and pages of student testimonials regarding Darby’s work in her courses, with her students past and present, and with visiting scientists. “Darby has undoubtedly been [the] single most influential person in my Mount Holyoke experience.” “Darby knows how to help people succeed in their dreams, not just pursue them.” “Darby Dyar is the quintessential teacher: she brings a caliber of brilliance, dedication, and inspiration into the classroom that is rare . . . I was not a science major. ” Darby’s teaching does not stop with the classroom. Her textbook Mineralogy and Optical Mineralogy has changed the future of instruction in that subject and her new book on Geostatistics may well repeat this feat for crunching numbers about rocks. She has been a pioneer in producing electronic media material for teaching. As her students report her saying: “How cool is that?”

Apart from her work in the Astronomy Department, Darby has served the College in a broader capacity by pioneering a campus wide uniform process to allow students to seek and apply for summer research internship opportunities. She has also been a frequent speaker for Admissions and in the Alumnae Club circuit.

To quote from a former student: “Darby is everything that is wonderful about a life in the academy. She has been a continuous source of inspiration as a mentor, a teacher, a collaborator, but above all, a friend. She is utterly selfless with her time, infectious with her enthusiasm, and thoughtful with her advice.” And a colleague: “Darby makes it seem effortless to maintain a world-class research program and at the same time take the responsibility of supervising a rapidly growing group of astronomy majors and minors, teach classes, deal with the unique challenges and opportunities afforded by the Five College Department, mentor postdocs and research visitors. She has been a role model to many . . . (and) an inspiration for how to be a professor, and more – how to do that right and have a family too.” We concur. Darby coordinates research with a worldwide impact from her lab in Clapp and it is for this inspired work that we honor Darby with the Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship.