For most of his career, Fisher studied the geology of the Appalachian Piedmont and the kinetics of metamorphic processes, producing a definitive summary of southern and central Appalachian geology. He then shifted toward explorations of the Earth as a system—studying how solid earth interacts with the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere—and then toward questions of how humans can live within the limits of Earth's system.
This later research led him to connect modern science with religious and moral reflection, and his writings in retirement focused on the tension between human needs and consumption patterns, and the preservation of ecological systems and the viability of future generations.
It was this question of how to achieve sustainability using both scientific and religious thought that Fisher believed was one of the most crucial challenges within the academy, speaking to who we are and how we are to live.
"George was a scientist of great depth, and in all my interactions with him I was struck by both his wisdom and kindness," said Anand Gnanadesikan, professor and chair of the department. "He was an early advocate of building the environmental science side of the department, recognizing the many contributions of the geosciences to tackling problems as diverse as conservation, energy, and global warming.
"He also had a deep sense of the ethical and human dimensions of science, as exemplified in his life post-Hopkins—getting a degree in theology and serving churches in the Baltimore area."
Chair, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
"George was a scientist of great depth, and in all my interactions with him I was struck by both his wisdom and kindness."
A Connecticut native, Fisher dug dinosaur bones as a teenage assistant on a paleontological project in the western U.S. He earned a bachelor's degree at Dartmouth College in 1959 and a PhD at Hopkins in 1963, both in geology. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Fisher joined the department in 1967, and served as director of the Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power, and History from 2002 to 2005. He was named emeritus in 2005, and went on to teach classes in science, ecology, and religious thought at Baltimore's Ecumenical Institute of Theology, St. Mary's Seminary and University, where he also earned a graduate degree in theology in 2002. He was elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences in 2001.
In the department's fall 2023 newsletter, Fisher shared his thoughts on the role of science in changing how people think and the role of spirituality in changing how they act: "Learning to live sustainably depends as much on caring about other people or creatures as it depends on understanding how natural systems work. We need to get the science right. But as we work on the science, we need to develop—and share—a deep sense of wonder at the beauty, intricacy, and contingency of the story we're learning."