J. Donald Rimstidt, a professor emeritus of geochemistry and former department head in the College of Science’s Department of Geosciences, died March 24, 2019, after a brief illness. He was 71.

A member of the Virginia Tech community since 1980, Rimsidt authored more than 100 publications; co-authored the Resource Geology lab manual; was contributing editor to various book chapters; and served as associate editor of Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, the journal of The Geochemical Society and The Meteoritical Society. He was also inducted as a Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America. He was named a professor emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in 2010 and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society, in 2015.

The latter honor was based on Rimstidt’s contributions to the field of hydrothermal geochemistry and kinetics, particularly for developing a deep understanding of the Earth’s surface geochemical makeup. His research varied widely: from exploring the possibility of water once existing on Mars in a 2004 paper, to studying the environmental impact of lead bullets left in the outdoors, including recreational shooting ranges.

In the classroom, Rimstidt taught a wide range of geosciences courses ranging from freshman to advanced graduate level. He also advised and counseled numerous undergraduate and graduate students and served as the graduate advisor for master’s and doctoral students. He also served as a department chair, an assistant department chair, and on numerous departmental committees.

Current Department of Geosciences Head W. Steven Holbrook said of Rimstidt, “Don was an internationally renowned geochemist who literally wrote the book on geochemical rate modeling. … [He] was a generous mentor whose door was always open to students, faculty, and staff. He was a beloved colleague and collaborator who worked across scientific disciplines to solve both fundamental and applied problems in geochemistry. He was an extraordinarily active emeritus professor, serving on graduate committees, publishing original research, and teaching right up until the end. We will miss him greatly.”

Fellow Department of Geosciences faculty showed an outpouring of tributes and memories this week.

“Don Rimstidt generously gave his time as a pragmatic mentor to hundreds of science and engineering students,” said Patricia Dove, a University Distinguished Professor of Geosciences. “Affectionately known as ‘JDR,’ he was an unwavering and no-nonsense supporter for my own science career since 1981 when I became his third master’s student. Throughout his career and in retirement, he approached geochemical questions through the rigor of physical chemical principles and with a practical approach to solving scientific problems. Behind the big voice and broad smile, JDR was one of the most-humble scientists I have ever known.”

Mike Hochella, a University Distinguished Professor and longtime faculty member at Virginia Tech, called J. Donald Rimstidt’s first professional publication “one of the more influential geochemical papers ever written … a brilliant treatise on the kinetics of silica-water reactions.” Written when Rimstidt was a Ph.D. student at Pennsylvania State University, the paper “explored silica-water interactions and reaction characteristics over a wide range of temperatures, from Earth surface to hydrothermal conditions,” and has been referenced more than 600 times by fellow researchers.

Hochella added, “When I left Stanford University to come back to my alma mater, Virginia Tech, in 1992 as an associate professor, Don was already a legend. So, what did I do? Even though I am a geochemist, I sat in on Don’s advanced geochemistry class the entire semester, every class — just so I could see the master at work. I was mesmerized from his unique abilities to explain this complex science. It was the best I have ever seen, before and since. Even as a scientific powerhouse, Don was perhaps the most modest professor that I have ever known. … Having Don leave us so unexpectedly, especially for someone so loved and admired, has been incredibly hard for students, staff, and professors alike.”

Robert J. Bodnar, the C.C. Garvin Professor of Geochemistry and a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Geosciences, said, “Don Rimstidt and I were friends and colleagues for nearly 40 years, going back to when I was a graduate student at Penn State. … Don was a true scholar and gentleman. You could walk into his office at any time with a question, and he would take time from whatever he was doing to offer an answer. His dedication and commitment to students set the standard for other faculty in the department. … He was the ‘go-to guy’ when there was a particularly difficult geochemical problem to solve, and I and others will miss the sage advice and guidance that he often provided. I and many other faculty and students are better people and better scientists because of Don Rimstidt.”

Rimstidt received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in 1969, a master’s degree from Indiana University in 1974, and a Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1979.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and his daughter, Krista Davy, and four grandchildren, among several other family members. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the J.D. Rimstidt Field Trip Fund in Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech. Donations are made payable to the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc. with the memo “J.D. Rimstidt Field Trip Fund, 860505” and mailed to: Virginia Tech, University Development (0336), 902 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg VA 24061. Or you can give online by visiting https://give.vt.edu/.

A memorial service is planned for a later date.


Related stories

J. Donald Rimstidt honored with emeritus status

Science, engineering faculty named as Fellows by American Association for Advancement of Science

Share this story