Recently retired Portland State University (PSU) geology professor Scott Burns was selected Outstanding Oregon Scientist for 2014 by the Oregon Academy of Science. He will receive an award for the honor on Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Academy’s annual meeting in Eugene.
The Academy is honoring Burns for his career-long body of work, much of it relating geology to the day-to-day lives of Oregonians.
Burns headed a major research project to map areas of radon exposure throughout Oregon. His research group’s 2013 report prompted widespread media attention about the cancer-causing dangers of radon -- which can enter through basement cracks – and what homeowners can do about it. Soon after the coverage, hardware stores in some parts of the state that Burns identified as high risk had difficulty keeping home radon tests in stock.
Burns also is known for his research on landslides, hazard mapping, heavy metals and trace elements in soils, and the prehistoric Missoula Floods that shaped much of Oregon. An amateur wine maker, Burns also is an authority on the effects and importance of soils in the growing of premium wine grapes – a quality known as terroir.
Frequently interviewed by Portland television stations on all things having to do with local geology, Burns continues to be a public face of Portland State.
Burns joined the PSU faculty in 1990 after 20 years of teaching in Switzerland, New Zealand, Colorado, Louisiana, and Washington. He retired from PSU in December 2013. He has taught summer courses at Stanford University for the last 24 years, through which he has led groups to the Alps, Alaska, national parks in the United States and Canada, and on winery tours to learn about terroir. He is scheduled to lead a Smithsonian tour to Iceland in summer 2015.
The Oregon Academy of Science was formed in 1943 as a networking organization for scientists, and to promote university and pre-college scientific organizations that encourage interest in the sciences, math and engineering. It began its annual Outstanding Oregon Scientist award in 1949. Past winners from Portland State include geologist Andrew Fountain (2008), chemist Carl Wamser (2002) and physicist Gertrude Rempfer (1998).