Dennis Kent, a leading expert in the history of earth’s magnetic field, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Other members of the 2012 class include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, playwright Neil Simon, Hollywood director Clint Eastwood and Amazon founder Jeffrey Bezos.
Kent is an expert in paleomagnetic dating, or estimating the age of ancient rocks by measuring the strength and direction of earth’s magnetic field recorded in their grains. Kent and his colleagues recently used the technique to push back the development of advanced tool-making in East Africa by early humans to 1.8 million years ago, at least 300,000 years earlier than previously thought. With his colleague Paul Olsen, Kent has also been pursuing evidence that a huge meteorite strike about 200 million years ago may have contributed to the mass extinction that led to the rise of the dinosaurs. The two scientists have traveled to the United Kingdom, Morocco and the northeastern U.S. gathering rock samples from this time period.
Kent is already a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Geological Society of America, American Geophysical Union, and American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Since its founding in 1780, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers” from each generation, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in the eighteenth century, Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the nineteenth, and Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill in the twentieth. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and more than 60 Pulitzer Prize winners.