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Dr. Alvarez wins research award

March 6, 2006
A Theorist on Dinosaurs Is Honored 
RENO, Nev., March 5 ? A geologist who proposed the
theory that a comet or asteroid smashed into the Earth
and killed off the dinosaurs has won a top research

The geologist, Walter Alvarez, of the University of
California, Berkeley, is the 19th recipient of the
Desert Research Institute's silver medallion and its
$20,000 prize. He is to accept the award here on

Dr. Alvarez's nearly two-decade investigation produced
an uncommon scientific drama of personal tenacity and
ingenuity, said Stephen G. Wells, president of the

"Until the impact theory was finally proven, Dr.
Alvarez and his colleagues were regarded as heretics
by the 'old guard' in the field of geology," Dr. Wells

The theory dates to the 1970's in Italy, where Dr.
Alvarez and his colleagues found high levels of the
element iridium, which is extremely rare on Earth, but
common in comets and asteroids.

They theorized that it must have come from the impact
of a giant asteroid that sent smoke, dust and iridium
into the sky, blocking the sun, lowering the Earth's
temperature and eventually killing off plants and many

Dr. Alvarez's theory, first published in Science in
1980, had few supporters until scientists found
evidence of a huge impact crater on the Yucatan
Peninsula of Mexico in 1989. Later studies found
evidence of debris from Mexico distributed by tsunamis
that went as far as Arkansas.

The Desert Research Institute, established in 1959, is
a nonprofit division of the University and Community
College System of Nevada.