The Biogeosciences Section Celebrates the Life of Marilyn Fogel

Photo courtesy of Carnegie Science

The Biogeosciences Section Celebrates the Life of Marilyn Fogel
The Isotope Queen, 1952-2022

On behalf of the Biogeosciences Section, we want to celebrate the life of Marilyn Fogel, who passed away 11 May. Dr. Fogel served as President of AGU Biogeosciences from 2015-16. As our President, she championed professional development and Section representation for early career scientists. Her legacy includes the now annual Early Career mixer at the Fall Meeting, the caretaker travel awards and an MOU with the Ecological Society of America to promote joint activities.

Marilyn Fogel, most recently at UC Riverside, was fondly known as the Isotope Queen for her scientific contributions to isotope geochemistry and for her advocacy to make public the barriers that women and mothers face in STEM. Dr. Fogel is well known for her scientific leadership and innovations developing and applying new isotopic tools to biogeochemistry of paleo and modern environments and to astrobiology. Some examples of Dr. Fogel’s unique contributions include the use of stable isotope as tracers of diet in fossils and modern organisms, the development of compound-specific stable isotopes to shed light into the nitrogen cycle in soils, sediments and aqueous environments and the determination of isotopic fractionation during important biochemical processes such as photosynthesis and respiration.

Dr. Fogel did much of this work while at the Geophysical Lab of the Carnegie Institute, where she was the second woman hired and the only woman scientist for 30 years. Dr. Fogel was an avid contributor to the global isotope community, colleagues estimate she collaborated with at least one-third of isotope labs worldwide. In 2012 she moved from Carnegie to UC Merced to become a Professor in the School of Natural Sciences as well as the Chair of the Life and Environmental Sciences Unit and in 2016 she moved to UC Riverside as the founding Director of the EDGE (Environmental Dynamics & Geo-Ecology) Institute and a Professor of Geo-ecology in the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department.

Marilyn was a beloved citizen-leader of the biogeoscience community because of her remarkable generosity and inspiring example. From 2005 –2015 alone, she gave her time to serve as: the Science Chair of the 2006 Astrobiology Science Conference; Director of the NSF Low-Temperature Geochemistry and Geobiology program; and President of the AGU Biogeosciences Section. Later, she lent her hands to university administrative leadership, and to each of these roles, Dr. Fogel brought her deeply humane ethics, her infectiously optimistic personality and her service-oriented leadership style, reaching, reassuring, and inspiring thousands of scientists working at the Earth-life interface.

Long-time users of the Isogeochem list-serv will remember Marilyn’s many and useful contributions about trouble-shooting extraction methods and taming mass specs in haiku format. Marilyn was an advocate for early-career researchers, with her mentees spread globally. She was an active member of the Earth Science Women’s Network, where she shared her candid, heartfelt advice and wisdom. This advice lives on in her memoir, The Isotope Queen, on her career navigating the old boys club, and where Marilyn publicly shared her battles with ALS. In 2019 her son documented Marilyn’s life and career.

Marilyn’s exceptional leadership and contributions to science were recognized earlier this year by a V.M. Goldschmidt Award (2022). Marilyn is a Fellow of the AGU, the AAAS, the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry and in 2019 was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Among her many notable awards and honors, in 2013 she was the first woman awarded the Alfred Treibs Medal for her contributions to organic geochemistry.

Marilyn always reminded us to poke fun at ourselves and to be human. She is already missed by many.
Marilyn Fogel
Photo courtesy of UC Riverside. News from Carnegie.
In June 2016, Marilyn Fogel and her husband, Christopher Swarth, created the Marilyn Fogel Endowment Fund for Internships, which is geared towards providing support for high school and undergraduate students to conduct mentored internships.

Also in 2021, The Marilyn L. Fogel Student Research Fund in Biogeosciences was established to honor Marilyn L. Fogel, '73, to support research activities for undergraduate and graduate students at Penn State in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
Special thanks to Drs. Erika Marin-Spiotta, Rebecca Barnes, Jennifer Pett-Ridge and Ariel Anbar for crafting this tribute.

From all present and past AGU Biogeochemistry Section leadership,

Margaret Torn, President
Colleen Hansel, President-Elect
Sean Schaeffer, Secretary
Elise Pendall, Past-President
Derek Pierson, Section Webmaster