The founding of Darwin College, during David Piper’s undergraduate degree in Geology at St Catharine’s College, passed him by at the time.

“I don’t recall anything,” he says now. “It was founded in the summer at the end of my first year, when I was incommunicado in the field on the Cambridge Spitsbergen Expedition.”

However, having contemplated a move to a different university for his PhD, David was instead persuaded to stay at Cambridge and transfer to Darwin in 1966, becoming the College’s first geologist. Part of the allure was the Department’s offer to send him to California for a year at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, to learn about the emerging field of marine geology.

“What I most appreciated at Darwin was the close interaction between Fellows and students,” he remembers. “I was used to this in my Department, where fieldwork helped bring us together, but I enjoyed the stimulus of College Fellows from a wide range of disciplines. In my third year, as the College became more international, my own experience as an international student in America led me to seek out and help the international students.”

One of these was Georgia Pe, who had come to Cambridge on a scholarship from the Greek government to study for a PhD in Mineralogy and Petrology.

“As an international student who had never been outside of Greece before, everything was new,” Georgia recalls. “So it really did not sink in for some time that Darwin itself was new.”

With very little way of finding out why she should favour one College over another, Georgia chose Darwin because of the familiarity of its coeducational environment, unique in Cambridge at the time.

“All I knew was that Cambridge had a good name. I chose Darwin College because it was the only College that accepted both women and men, which mirrored my entire previous educational experience.”

The choice of College proved life-changing for both of them, as the couple have now been married over 50 years.

As DCSA President, David benefited from the sense that students’ perspectives were valued as a contribution to Darwin life.

“I learned so much from working with the Master, Frank Young. The feeling that all of us in the College were in a way equal was memorable. I was very conscious that we were doing things differently and felt privileged to be part of Darwin College and to have a leadership role among the students. Going back to hierarchy and tradition as a Research Fellow of Jesus College was a bit of a shock.”

After moving on to Jesus, David retained a close connection to Darwin through Georgia, who was completing her PhD with the added pressure of a time-limited scholarship.

“I knew I had to finish completely in three years because my scholarship would run out. I felt I did not have time for extensive extra-curricular activities. I had friends in College, but most of my time was spent in the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology.”

Georgia returned to Greece as a Lecturer at the University of Patras in 1972, while David moved to Canada. Through creative use of summer lab visits, conferences, sabbaticals and maternity leave, they kept together despite full-time jobs on different continents. In 1980, Georgia relocated to Canada, where both enjoyed long and successful academic careers. Georgia spent 37 years at St Mary’s University, Halifax, where she is now Professor Emerita, while maintaining active research in Greece, where her work has been recognised by two honorary degrees. She is the co-author of the definitive book on the igneous rocks of Greece, and known in Canada for her work on volcanism related to the opening of the Atlantic ocean, on shear zone granites and on the diagenesis and provenance of the sandstones of the offshore Scotian Basin.

After teaching marine geology at Dalhousie University for nearly a decade, David worked for almost 40 years as a research scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, where he is now an Emeritus Scientist. He served as longstanding editor of first the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences and later Marine Geology and is best known for his work on deep-water sediments in the oceans and the ice-age history of eastern Canada. The couple have undertaken extensive collaborative research on the geology of Greece.

Georgia and David agree that the intellectual, international and gender diversity of Darwin at that time was unique in Cambridge. Not only, by chance, did it bring them together, but it also had an enormous impact on their personal development and future careers.





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