Janet Watson

Janet Watson
Janet Vida Watson

1 September 1923
Hampstead, London, UK
Died29 March 1985 (1985-03-30) (aged 61)
Ashtead, United Kingdom
EducationReading University (1943) Imperial College, Ph.D. (1949)
OccupationProfessor at Imperial College London (1958).
Spouse(s)John Sutton (m. 1949-1985)
Children2 daughters (both died at birth)

Janet Vida Watson FRS[1] FGS (1923–1985) was a British geologist. She was a professor of Geology at Imperial College, London. A fellow of the Royal Society, she is well known for her contribution to the understanding of the Lewisian complex and as an author and co-author of several books. In 1982 she was elected President of the Geological Society of London, the first women to occupy that position.

Personal life

She was born 1 September 1923 in Hampstead, London. Her father; David M. S. Watson FRS was a vertebrate palaeontologist and a professor of zoology and comparative anatomy at the University of London. Her mother; Katharine M. Parker, did research in embryology prior to marriage. Janet Watson grew up alongside her sister, Katharine Mary in South Hampstead and attended the local school. She then went on to attend Reading University to learn about General Science.[1] Watson graduated with a first class honours degree in biology and geology in 1943. Watson married John Sutton in 1949 and had a professional partnership throughout their lives. They had two daughters who both had died at birth. Watson died on 29 March 1985, at the age of 61.[2]


After her graduation in 1943, Watson began working at the National Institute for Research in Dairying. She observed chicken growth and their diets. She became bored with her job and went on to teach biology at Wentworth School, Bournemouth before deciding to become a geologist by the end of World War II.[3][4] She applied to Imperial College in 1945, completing her BSc in Geology in 1947, again getting a first class degree. After her second graduation, the then head of department, Herbert Harold Read, took her on as his student and set her to work on the migmatites of Sutherland. She then began to work on the Lewisian complex of northwestern Scotland together with John Sutton, another of Read's research students. The two completed their PhD theses in 1949 followed by a wedding and honeymoon in the Channel Islands, which explains a joint publication on the geology of Sark a few years later.[5]

After the award of their PhDs, they both joined the staff at Imperial College.[6] They published their thesis work in a paper in 1951,[7] that had a major impact on the study of Precambrian basement complexes, by showing that it was possible to understand their metamorphic and structural development as a series of discrete orogenic events that could be discerned in the field. They proposed that an older Archaean Scourian complex, had been partially reworked by a younger Paleoproterozoic Laxfordian orogenic event, as shown by its effect on a set of dolerite dykes, known as the Scourie dykes. Subsequent fieldwork, metamorphic studies and radiometric dating has refined their chronology but supported their original hypothesis.[8]

They continued to work together on other aspects of the Precambrian geology of Scotland, including the Moine, Dalradian and Torridonian. John Sutton became head of department at Imperial College in 1964 and from then on their joint publications became less frequent.[3] Watson published an introductory textbook Beginning geology with her former PhD supervisor H.H. Read in 1966, followed by Introduction to Geology: Volume 1 Principles in 1968 and Introduction to geology Volume2 Earth history: Part 1 Early Stages of Earth History and Part 2 Later Stages of Earth History in 1975.[5]

In 1975, Watson was appointed to a personal chair as research professor of geology.[6] She continued to work on the problems of the precambrian in Scotland but also published on ore genesis and regional geochemistry.[5] She served as president of the Geological Society from 1982 to 1984, the first woman to hold that post.[3]



Year Publication Subject Matter
1962 Fossils and their Uses What is a fossil and what they are used for
1966 Beginning Geology Early stages of the earth's history
1975 A Correlation of the Precambrian Rocks in the British Isles The Geology of Great Britain
1977 Introduction to Geology Introducing geology (rocks and mineralogy)
1979 Rocks and Minerals - Second Edition Isotopic age-determinations of rocks and minerals
1983 Geology and Man: An Introduction to Applied Earth Science Introduction to earth science and environmental science


Janet Watson was a major contributor to the advancement of Earth Science.[9] In May 2009, the lecture theatre at the Geological Society was named after her as an appreciation for her major influence in the geology community.[10] As of 2016, the Geological Society holds an annual Janet Watson meeting event. The conference puts an emphasis on giving the opportunity to young geologists starting their careers to present and discuss their research.[11] Watson is also very well remembered for her ability to ask fundamental questions about many areas in her field. One of her many students, Rick Sibson, appreciated her for always pushing them to create their own way of thinking.[12]


  1. ^ a b Fettes, D. J.; Plant, J. A. (1995). "Janet Watson. 1 September 1923 – 29 March 1985". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 41: 500. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1995.0030.
  2. ^ "Watson, Janet Vida (1923–1985) | Encyclopedia.com". www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 9 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Ogilvie, M.B.; Harvey J.D. (2000). The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science:L-Z. Taylor & Francis. pp. 1350–1351. ISBN 978-0-415-92040-7. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  4. ^ Geological Society, London (1994). "Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of JANET VIDA WATSON FRS (1923–1985)". Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Bowes, D.R. (1987). Janet Watson—an appreciation and bibliography (PDF). Special Publications. 27. Geological Society, London. pp. 1–5. doi:10.1144/GSL.SP.1987.027.01.01. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  6. ^ a b Imperial College (2007). "A celebration of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London 1907–2007" (PDF). p. 20. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  7. ^ Sutton, J.; Watson J (1951). "The pre-Torridonian metamorphic history of the Loch Torridon and Scourie areas in the north-west Highlands, and its bearing on the chronological classification of the Lewisian". Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London. 106: 241–307. doi:10.1144/GSL.JGS.1950.106.01-04.16.
  8. ^ Park, R.G.; Stewart A.D.; Wright D.T. (2002). "3: The Hebridean terrane". In Trewin N.H. (ed.). The geology of Scotland. Geological Society, London. pp. 45–80. ISBN 978-1-86239-126-0. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
  9. ^ Bowes, D. R. (1 January 1987). "Janet Watson—an appreciation and bibliography". Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 27 (1): 1–5. doi:10.1144/GSL.SP.1987.027.01.01. ISSN 0305-8719.
  10. ^ Park, Graham (November 2008). "Janet Vida Watson, FRS: an appreciation" (PDF).
  11. ^ "The Geological Society of London - The Janet Watson Meeting". www.geolsoc.org.uk. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  12. ^ Park, Graham (1 May 2009). "Janet Vida Watson, FRS: an appreciation". Journal of the Geological Society. 166 (3): 385–386. doi:10.1144/0016-7649Ed166-3. ISSN 0016-7649.

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