Rocks and Waters: Honoring Carol McCartney of the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey

For July 8, 2020

Please share this missive with your friends & neighbors.

Hi WN@TL Fans,

On the Great Seal of Wisconsin are two workers: a miner and a sailor. Rocks and waters have been of the essence for a long time in the Badger state.

Rocks & waters have also been a big deal at the University since its inception.  The UW Geology Museum traces its veins back before statehood and is older than the U.  When the original Science Hall burnt down in 1884, among the greatest losses among the ashes were the museum’s collections of minerals and fossils.

Three years later, a geologist who had grown up in Rock County, Thomas Chamberlin,  became the pivotal president of the university who launched the campus on its path to being a pioneering research institution among state universities.

In 1903, a geologist born and raised in Rock County, Charles Van Hise, became the president of the university who fueled an expansive statewide vision of what became known as the Wisconsin Idea and an equally expansive view of the UW’s intellectual reach.  The research Van Hise performed while he worked in the new “Science Hall.” (clearly a geology building because it includes a period in its name as set in stone) later served as the leading reason for the building becoming a National Historic Landmark (see page 8 of the NHL nomination).

Today the field of geology is advanced at UW-Madison by the Department of Geoscience, including the UW Geology Museum, and by the Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey, part of the Division of Extension.

WGNHS has long had a far-reaching public outreach program, and the most recent person to lead and expand that work has been Carol McCartney, a hydrogeologist who earned her PhD in Geology at UW-Madison in 1979 under Prof David Mickelson.

Carol has been a splendid colleague in science outreach on campus and in communities across Wisconsin. She’s staffed Exploration Stations at State Fair and at Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, at UW Science Expeditions and at the Wisconsin Science Festival, at Family Science Nights and at Super Science Saturdays.

You can see Carol’s congenial collegiality in the emphasis of the Survey’s outreach communications & Twitter feed that feature the folks at the Survey from the undergrad hourlies to the grad students and post-docs, through the professional staff and the Survey’s collaborators at other colleges.

Unsurpassed in her many gifts to me has been the unbroken string of outstanding WN@TL talks given by geologists she nominated.

Today Carol McCartney retired from UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Geological & Natural History Survey.  To mark this happy & bittersweet event, I’m pleased to go back in WN@TL geological time to feature four talks by Carol’s geoscience  colleagues.

Grace Graham and Sue Swanson


Esther Stewart


Ken Bradbury


David Hart


Carol has been a gem as a geoscience impresario, and she also gave a jewel of a talk on Charles Van Hise’s field notebooks and his dazzling microscopic lithology slides of crystalline rocks.

Carol McCartney

Carol has invited us all to explore, to see, to understand, and to explore some more:  this is the legacy in outreach that she passes on to her colleagues at the Survey.


I hope to see you sometime soon once we can resume Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H


UW-Madison:  5.8 million owners, one pretty good public land-grant teaching, research and extension university.

Visit UW-Madison’s science outreach portal at for information on the people, places & programs on campus that welcome you to come experience science as exploring the unknown, all year round.

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  1. The live WN@TL seminar, every Wednesday night, 50 times a year, at 7pm CT (on hiatus as of March 11, 2020)
  2. The live web stream at on hiatus)
  3. The WN@TL YouTubechannel
  4. WN@TL on the University Placebroadcast channel of PBS Wisconsin
  5. WN@TL on the University Place website

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