Stanford University
Atilla Aydin with researchers in field

Atilla Aydin, geologist, musician, chef, and devoted Cardinal fan, has died

Aydin was a field geologist who loved nothing more than leading teams of researchers and students into remote locations – the Valley of Fire, Point Reyes, Zion National Park, a Hawaiian volcano, Sicily – to study prehistoric rock formations.

BY Andrew Myers
ClockApril 27, 2022

Geology research Professor Atilla Aydin died of cancer in Istanbul, Turkey, his native country, on February 8, 2022, surrounded by extended family. He was 77.

Profile image for Atilla Aydin
Atilla Aydin

Aydin was a field geologist in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) who loved nothing more than leading teams of researchers and students into remote locations – the Valley of Fire, Point Reyes, Zion National Park, a Hawaiian volcano, Sicily – to study prehistoric rock formations.

He had a preternatural ability to “read” rock formations and understand geomechanics in ways that few others could. Photos of him in the field show Aydin crouched before rock formations, chin in hand, or touching their strata with his outstretched fingertips.

“Atilla could look at deformation bands and explain their origin and their importance,” Stanford colleague and friend David Pollard said. “He really understood porous sandstone and, in particular, the way broken sand particles could fill the rock pores, preventing the flow of oil and gas. Many companies, even ones with their own geologists on staff, were more than willing to support Atilla’s research and hire his students.”

Outside of geology, Aydin loved Balkan folk music and dance and would spend time abroad each summer at camps where he worked on his technique in both. He played a type of bagpipe known as a gaida. He appears in photographs leading geology trips, students in tow, playing the gaida amongst the rocks. Aydin was also a gourmet who loved Turkish cuisine and fine wine. He and his cooking were featured in a 1980 issue of Sunsetmagazine. He was also an avid fan of sports and, especially, the Stanford Cardinal. He followed soccer most of all, but adopted basketball and American football and loved them almost as much.

Atilla Aydin at Point Reyes
Aydin puzzling out structures at Point Reyes. (Photo credit: Tricia Allwardt)

Attila Aydin was born August 4, 1944, in the village of Yoncali, near the city of Ağrı in eastern Turkey in the shadow of Mount Ararat. He lived there until he was 11, when he moved to Istanbul for high school. After graduating high school, Aydin continued his education at Istanbul Technical University, graduating with a degree in geological engineering in 1968. Aydin then came to Stanford University, where he earned his master’s and his doctorate in geology under Professor Arvid Johnson in 1974 and 1978, respectively.

After earning his PhD, Aydin was obligated to return to Turkey to teach as an assistant professor of geology at Istanbul Technical University, which he did from 1978 to 1980. Due to the tenuous political climate in Turkey at the time, however, Aydin eventually sought to leave his homeland. He joined the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel as a visiting scientist in 1980, then returned to Stanford on a postdoctoral fellowship from 1980 to 1981.

Eventually, Aydin earned a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of Earth and atmospheric sciences at Purdue University in 1982. He was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1987. In 1991, Aydin took a major career gamble. Longing for Stanford, he called his friend David Pollard and they began planning his return. With no tenured positions available, however, returning would mean Aydin’s relinquishing tenure and its guarantee of lifetime employment and academic freedom.

Atilla Aydin playing gaida in the field
Aydin playing gaida in the field. (Photo credit: Richard Schultz)

Undeterred, Aydin carved out a niche for himself co-managing with Pollard the Stanford Rock Fracture Project industry affiliates program, through which corporate partners supported their students and research in matters of structural geology. He returned to Stanford in 1991 as associate professor (research), was promoted in 1997 to full professor (research), and retired in 2015.

“I thought his leaving Purdue was risky, but also a courageous move,” Pollard said. “There were no guarantees. Somehow, we made it work for a quarter-century. As a teacher and a colleague, he was a demanding and forceful personality, but he was as hard on himself as anyone. He mentored many graduate students who went on to successful careers, and he made major contributions to structural geology.”

Aydin traveled frequently to his homeland to visit family members who were beside him at his death. He was particularly fond of his grandnieces, Nazli, Ipek, and Bahar Avanoglu of Istanbul, Turkey; and his grandnephews, Ozgur Aydinli, and Ulas and Boran Celik, also of Istanbul, Turkey. Aydin was buried in Turkey. No additional memorial service is planned, but more than 60 former students and colleagues gathered for a Zoom remembrance with photos and spoken recollections covering his 50 years with Stanford.

Media Contacts

Danielle T. Tucker

School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, 650-497-9541

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