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At 84, SUNY Potsdam’s ‘earthquake man’ keeps rocking

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POTSDAM — Frank A. Revetta has had his ear to the north country’s rocky ground for five decades, and despite a recent retirement, he’s not going to stop.

Mr. Revetta, a SUNY Potsdam geology professor, was awarded the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Eastern Section of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers this spring.

“I think the main reason I got it is because of the long service I had with them,” he said. “I had 15 or 16 years as their treasurer or secretary. I also did a lot of papers and presented a lot of research, and I attended all their meetings. They must have thought that since I was retiring from the organization they should recognize me.”

In the north country, many colloquially refer to Mr. Revetta as the “earthquake man,” as his initial interest in seismology made him a prime source whenever the earth shook.

“I remember when I first started to record them, we’d even feel some of them,” he said. “They are really nice because they don’t cause much damage and they’re good for teaching.”

Mr. Revetta says his work goes beyond earthquakes.

“Most of my work that I’ve done through my life has been making gravity measurements and teaching,” he said. “I just went into this earthquake thing because I found it interesting.”

Over the years, Mr. Revetta and his students took gravity measurements throughout New York and adjacent states to create detailed maps of gravity anomalies — areas where Earth’s pull increases or decreases.

“Gravity anomalies affect the orbits of satellites, so I had to send my results to the Department of Defense because they wanted to know where they were,” he said. “They’re related to mineral deposits, and they are very good for making discoveries about geology. They are good for determining the shape of the Earth. I know I’ve made 15,000 to 20,000 measurements of gravity.”

This spring also marked Mr. Revetta’s retirement, but he is continuing to teach and research full-time at SUNY Potsdam as a professor emeritus.

Mr. Revetta started teaching at the university in 1962. At 84 years old, he has no plans to stop.“As long as they need me, as long as they like to have me, because I love teaching. It is something that is a good thing to do as you get up in years,” he said.

“I admit there aren’t too many people working at 84, but it is good in my case,” he said. “Let’s suppose if you retire you don’t do anything, you sit around at home all day and you get bored. If you go to work, you enjoy doing things and keep your mind active.”

A natural curiosity and a love of teaching keep him going, according to Mr. Revetta.

“I know my happiness is tied in closely with my work,” he said. “I just had a class this morning. Now I’m working on a little research project. When I consider both stripes of life, whether to sit idle or to stay active, I am definitely convinced that the best choice for me is to teach.”

Mr. Revetta, founder of the Potsdam Seismology Network, continues to keep tabs on the earthquake activity in the region.

“There aren’t as many earthquakes as there used to be,” he said. “I remember when I first started to record earthquakes, there were a lot of them. Most of them were quite small but frequent. It would be interesting to get a student to graph all the earthquakes we’ve had in the past 30 or 40 years. I’d swear that graph is going down.”

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