Heinz A. Lowenstam

1912 to 1993
Paleoecology

Heinz A. LowenstamHeinz A. Lowenstam was born in Upper Silesia in southeastern Germany in 1912. After being denied his Ph.D. from Nazi-controlled universities for being Jewish, he fled with his wife, Ilse, to the United States. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1939 just prior to World War II and became Curator of Paleontology at the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. In 1943, he was appointed to the staff of the Illinois State Geological Survey where he served six years as an associate geologist and geologist in the Survey's Coal Division and its Stratigraphy and Paleontology Division. In 1950, he became an associate professor of geology at the University of Chicago. In 1952, he joined the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) where he undertook research and teaching on paleoecology, biogeochemistry, paleo-temperatures, the evolution of reef ecology, and the impact of life on chemical and physical processes in the ocean. Lowenstam lived out a full and active academic life at Cal Tech. His students revered him.

Lowenstam became a well-recognized expert in biostratigraphy from his work with the Illinois State Geological Survey in the 1940s. He was the first to describe the importance of the discovery of the marine oil pool in the Illinois Basin as a Silurian reef. He went on to recognize and describe reef and off-reef facies and the petroleum potential of Silurian reefs. He was a pioneer in paleoecology of reef structures. Indeed, Joseph L. Kirschvink, in his 2003 National Academy biographical memoir on Lowenstam, stated that Lowenstam was the first to blend biological and paleontological analyses to unravel the ecological associations of fossil communities. His research has been used by Survey scientists and industry in expanding Silurian reef play concepts in the Illinois Basin and in delineating quality limestones and dolomites in the Chicago region. Lowenstam was a stellar and practical researcher-an intellectual giant.

Honored by: 
Bradford Supply Company (W. Jack Chamblin)
Citation Contributed by: 
Morris W. Leighton