John A. Harrison

1916 to 1967
Coal Petrography

John Albert Harrison was born in Swifton, Arkansas. He earned a B.S. in geology in about 1940 at the University of Arkansas. He was then a teacher at Prairie Grove High School in Arkansas. He joined the Illinois State Geological Survey in 1941 as a research assistant in the Coal Section under G.H. Cady. However, he was on military leave during World War II and served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy for almost four years. He returned to the Survey after the war and earned his M.S. in geology from the University of Illinois in 1948.

During that period, he studied coal resources and stratigraphy. Around 1950, he began to study coal petrography. He was an early pioneer in measuring the reflectance of vitrinite (a major component of coal) as a measure of coal quality. He established a laboratory at the Survey devoted to relating vitrinite reflectance to coal rank. In 1966, he coauthored a paper with Josephus Thomas in the journal Fuel on the relationship between moisture content, reflectance values, and internal surface area of coal. The measurement of reflectance is now a standard method of characterizing coals and organic matter in sediments. Unfortunately, Harrison died at the peak of his career.

Prior to his death, he was active in the International Committee for Coal Petrology and attended meetings in England, The Netherlands, and Spain. He was also active with the American Society for Testing and Materials in developing methods for petrographic analysis of coal. He also served as Secretary of the Coal Group of the Geological Society of America. Those who knew him indicated that "despite his intense dedication to his work, John gave freely of his talents to scientific societies, civic activities, and his family, yet still found time for numerous acts of kindness and thoughtfulness to his friends."

Honored by: 
Discovery Group (R.M. Cluff, President), James C. Cobb, and Maria Mastalerz
Citation Contributed by: 
William R. Roy