Kenneth Hsu - Biography



Hsu (Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c.) studied at the Chinese National Central University (later renamed Nanjing University in mainland China and reinstated in Taiwan) (B.Sc. 1948), and came to the United States in 1948 where he studied at Ohio State University (M.A., 1950), and at University of California, Los Angeles, where he received his Ph.D in 1953.

Professional life

Hsu worked as a petroleum geologist and environmental engineer for the Shell Development Corporation (Houston), now called Shell Oil Company, between 1954 and 1963. He also taught at U.S. universities (1963–67), before becoming Chairman of the Experimental Geology Department at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich), in 1967, where he was Emeritus Professor of Geology until 1994. Hsu started his business career after his retirement from teaching.

Professorships & lectureships

Hsu was a lecturer, guest or honorary professor in geology, climatology or oceanography at numerous renowned universities of the world, including Beijing, California (San Diego), Cambridge, Columbia, Florence, Harvard, London, Milan, M.I.T., Moscow, Nanjing, Naples, Ohio, Oxford, Paris, Princeton, Taipei, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington, Woods Hole, Yale etc.

After retirement in 1994, he was Guest Professor at the National Taiwan University (1994–95), Guest Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Senior Fellow at the Berlin Institute of Advanced Studies (1995-56), Keck Professor at Colorado School of Mines, University Professor at Nanjing University, and University Professor at Beijing University of Geosciences.

Scientific work

Hsu served in numerous scientific organizations:

  • President and Past President of the International Association of Sedimentologists (IAS);
  • General Secretary of the Alpine Mediterranean Working Group of the International Geodynamics Project (IGP);
  • Chairman of the Paleoceaonography Working Group of the International Lithosphere Project (ILP);
  • Leader of several projects of UNESCO’s International Geological Correlation Project (IGCP);
  • Chairman of the International Commission of Marine Geology (1980–1989);
  • Chairman of the Committee on Sedimentology of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS);
  • ex officio member of the Executive Committee of the Scientific Commission on Oceanographic Research (SCOR) (1980–1989);
  • member of the Swiss Commission on UNESCO (1987–1990);
  • International Union of the Geological Sciences (IUGS);
  • Representative of the Geological Sciences at the IGBP/Global Change Program of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) (1989–1992);
  • ICSU member of the United Nations Expert Panel on Seabed Disposal of Radioactive Waste (1987–1988);
  • Chairman of the Mediterranean Panel, South Atlantic Panel and Tectonics Panel of the Joint Oceanographic Institutions Deep Earth Study Program (JOIDES),
  • Member of the Paleoceanography Panel and the JOIDES Planning Committee of the Ocean-Drilling Program.


Hsu was Editor and or Associate Editor of numerous journals including:

  • Sedimentology: Journal Of The International Association Of Sedimentologists (Founding Editor & Editor-in-Chief 1972-1979). UK: Blackwell Science.
  • Journal of Sedimentary Petrography.
  • Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists.
  • Geophysical Research Letters.
  • Bulletin of the Japanese Geological Society.
  • Tethys.
  • Geologie Mediterrane.

Institutional work

Hsu was elected a Member of the U. S. National Academy of Science in 1986. He later became a Foreign Associate. He was also an Associate of the Third-World Academy of Sciences, a Member of Academia Sinica (1988), the Mediterranean Academy of Sciences and several other academies of science. He was a founder of the European Geophysical Society and a founder of the science of paleooceanography. He convened the First International Conference of Paleoceanography and founded the journal Paleoceanography. Hsu also assisted in the founding of the Asian Association of Marine Geology. He also served for 11 years as President of the International Association of Sedimentologists. Hsu was the convener of the Third Workshop on Marine Geology of IUGS; the First Earth Science Colloquium of the European Science Foundation; several Dahlem Conferences of the Dahlem Foundation; and numerous symposia and workshops for IGP, ILP, IGCP, SCOR and JOIDE.

Advisory work

Hsu was a convener of numerous scientific conferences, founder of several scientific societies, and advisor to the governments of developing countries:

  • UNDP Advisor to Maltese Government (1973);
  • UNDP Advisor to Chinese Government (1989);
  • Advisor to Brazil Government on petroleum geology;
  • Advisor to Argentina and Taiwan governments on lake research and global change;
  • Advisor to the Chinese Ministry of Geology (1979–87);
  • Consultant to the Chinese Ministry of Chemical Industry (1992–1996);
  • Consultant to the Chinese Ministry of Petroleum Geology (1992–94);
  • Consultant to the Taiwan Museum of Natural History (1995);
  • Technical Advisor to the Taiwan National Science Foundation (1996–2000);
  • External Examiner to the University of Malaysia.
  • Consultant to the Chinese Ministry of Petroleum;
  • Consultant to the Chinese Ministry of Geology and Mining;
  • Consultant to the Chinese Institute of Geotechnical Investigation (Ministry of Construction).

Scientific exploration

Hsu participated and led 5 deep-sea drilling cruises to the South Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Black Sea. He also led several international expeditions to Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, South China, California Coast Ranges and the Swiss Alps, travelling to 80 countries for Earth Science.

Academic work

Hsu joined ETH Zürich in 1967 as an associate professor and built up 5 leading international laboratories in the fields of rock mechanics (geophysics), mass-spectrometry (isotope geochemistry), Quaternary research (paleoclimatology), sedimentology and tectonics. During Hsu's 28 year tenure, 4 of the Geological Institute's staff received the Wollaston Medal.

Political work

His co-organized a consortium of 15 European member states to join the International Ocean Drilling Program.

China work

Hsu successfully lobbied for the admission of the Chinese Geological Union to replace the Chinese Geological Society in Tapieh as a member of the International Union of Geological Sciences and was a member of the first IUGS delegation to China. He served the Chinese Ministry of Geology and Mining in giving training programs for Sedimentology (1979), Field Geology of Tibet (1980) and Plate Tectonics (1992). From 1983-1995, he assisted the Institute of Geology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences with the completion of a project on plate tectonics and to publish a new Geological Atlas of China.


Two Festschrift symposia books, Controversies in Geology, and Paradoxes in Geology, were published by Hsu's colleagues on his 60th and 70th birthdays. In September 2009, his contributions to China and to science were acknowledged at a conference in Beijing, attended by dignitaries from government, industry and academia. He participated in the Earth Science Revolution of the 1960s, and is active in the field of evolutionary biology (symbiogenesis) with Lynn Margulis, and in the reform of geological education and physics.


  • Advisor, Chinese Natural Science Foundation.
  • Alumni of the Century, Nanjing University (Gold Medal, University Centenary Celebration).
  • Associate Fellow, Third World Academy of Sciences.
  • Chair, International Marine Geology Commission, 1980-89.
  • Chairman, Department of Earth Sciences, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
  • Distinguished Alumnus, Ohio State University.
  • Emeritus Professor, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
  • First Distinguished Alumni Lecturer of Geology, UCLA.
  • Guest Professor, National Taiwan University (1994–95).
  • Guest Professor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
  • Honorary Professor, University College London, April 2008.
  • International Writer of the Year, International Book Club (Cambridge), 2003.
  • Keck Professor, Colorado School of Mines.
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences, Academy Sinica (Taiwan).
  • Member, Mediterranean Academy of Sciences.
  • Member & Foreign Associate, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1986.
  • President, International Association of Sedimentologists, 1978-82.
  • Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Studies, Berlin, 1995-96.
  • University Professor, Nanjing University.
  • University Professor, Beijing University of Geosciences.


For his contributions to geology, Hsu received several medals and awards.

  • Wollaston Medal from The Geological Society of London (considered the highest honor in Geology, or an equivalent to the Nobel Prize in Geology) in 1984 (formerly presented to Charles Lyell, Thomas Henry Huxley, Charles Darwin and James Lovelock).
  • Penrose Medal from The Geological Society of America in 2001 (the highest honor by the Society).
  • President's Special Award, American Association of Petroleum Geologists (resulting in Hsu being listed in Who's Who in Trade & Industry)
  • Twenhofel Medal from the Society of Sedimentary Geology in 1984 (the highest award of the Society of Sedimentary Geology).
  • Bownocker Medal (Orton Award), from the Geological Sciences Department of Ohio State University, 1984.

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