J. Tuzo Wilson

J. Tuzo Wilson
Place of Birth: 
Ottawa, ON
Graduation Years: 
1930 (BA)
First Year Employed at UTM/U of T: 
Department / Division: 

I enjoy, and always have enjoyed, disturbing scientists.

J. Tuzo Wilson

John Tuzo Wilson earned U of T’s first bachelor of arts degree in geophysics in 1930. He also earned a B.Sc. from the University of Cambridge (1932) and PhD from Princeton (1936). Wilson served as Erindale College’s second principal from 1967-1974 and later as the director-general of the Ontario Science Centre.

Wilson was a legendary figure in the world of planetary geophysics. His research contributions to plate tectonics made him a superstar in the scientific community. Plate tectonics focuses on the formation of the Earth’s crust as well as the origin of mountains, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Wilson proposed the existence of transform faults to explain the high number of earthquakes and narrow fracture zones along the oceanic ridge. He also discovered that stationary hot spots were caused by magma plumes rising beneath the Earth’s crust, causing the formation of mid-plate volcanic chains. His name was given to two young Canadian submarine volcanoes called the Tuzo Wilson Seamounts. The Wilson cycle of seabed expansion and contraction also bears his name.

In 1967, Claude Bissell, then-president of U of T, invited Wilson to be the second principal of the university’s new western campus, Erindale College. Wilson accepted the offer, crediting his wife Isabel for helping with the decision. As Erindale’s second principal, he encountered two unique challenges. The first was the unclear relationship between Erindale’s students, faculty and departments to the St. George campus, with the second being the dearth of campus facilities – the college possessed 300 acres of land but only one modest building. The latter problem, however, turned into an advantage when he realized Erindale’s research efforts could benefit from sprawling undisturbed surroundings. During his tenure, he encouraged the development of experimental research on campus in fields such as rock magnetism.

Motivated by his love of geophysics, Wilson travelled the world, studying global geology in places such as Papua New Guinea, Kenya and Antarctica. He served as president of the Royal Society of Canada in 1972. During his illustrious career, he received many awards and tributes including the Vetlesen Prize from Columbia University, and the Civic Award of Merit and Gold Medal from the City of Toronto. He was named a companion of the Order of Canada in 1974.