Ralph E. Grim

1902 to 1989
Clay Mineralogy

Ralph E. GrimRalph Early Grim was born February 25, 1902, in Reading, Pennsylvania. He entered Yale in 1920 and received a B.A. in geology in 1924. His professors at Yale thought that pursuing a Ph.D. in clay minerals wasn't too promising a path, so he took a job in 1929 as an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi with a joint appointment as Assistant State Geologist. His report on the bentonites of Mississippi, entitled The Eocene Sediments of Mississippi, led to a Ph.D. from Iowa State University.

He was hired by Illinois State Geological Survey Chief Morris M. Leighton as a petrographer in 1931 and was promoted to Principal Geologist of the Geology Group and Head of the new Clay Resources and Clay Mineral Technology Section in 1945. In 1948, Grim resigned as a principal geologist at the Survey and became a research professor of geology at the University of Illinois. From his professorship, he continued to serve as Head of the Clay Section until 1958. He retired from the University of Illinois as Professor Emeritus in 1967.

Ralph Grim is justly called the "Father of Clay Mineralogy," and his 60-year career and many honors are impossible even to summarize in this short biography. He could simultaneously perform mundane testing on low-cost geological and mineral resource samples, employ new basic research methods to these samples, and find the unifying fundamental concepts that made it possible to generalize and apply results in a way that had great impact in Survey programs, soil science, and civil engineering. Each of his Survey publications and his three textbooks illustrate this approach. Grim was notable at society meetings where he often rose to ask a speaker whether he or she had thought about how some new fundamental insight might be used to create products or processes of value to society—usually leaving the speaker at a loss for words and helping out with a few of his own ideas. Especially, the two editions of Clay Mineralogy and his Applied Clay Mineralogy remain standard texts today. His book with Necip Guven on bentonites also has received wide praise. Grim's work at the Survey was so widely recognized that his office and laboratories were the only ones located on the building's first floor so that Chief Leighton could easily direct visitors' attention to the famous scientist's research facilities.

He was editor of the Journal of Sedimentary Geology, a founder and the first Distinguished Member of the Clay Mineral Society and a Roebling Medal winner from the Mineralogical Society of America. He was an honorary member of the National Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters and Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Ceramic Society, and the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists. He also was named Fellow by several international societies, and he received the only gold medal ever awarded by the Clay Mineral Society of Spain, and the Medal of the Ordre Nationale and Designated Chevalier of the Ordre Nationale of the Republic of Ivory Coast (1973). He was given an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1984, and he received a posthumous citation by the Illinois House of Representatives.

Honored by: 
Haydn Murry and James Kirkpatrick
Citation Contributed by: 
Randall E. Hughes