BY WILLIAM R. BRICE
JOHN WEST WELLS DIED at his home on Brook Lane in Ithaca, New York, on January 12, 1994. As a teacher, scholar, and internationally known researcher he made an indelible mark on the world of paleontology through his own contributions and through the work of his many students. Although he spent the formative years of his teaching career at Cornell University, he served on the faculty at the University of Texas (1929-31), at the State Normal School (SUNY) at Fredonia, New York (1937-38), and at Ohio State University (1938-48). During World War II he served with the Office of Strategic Services and assisted with war damage assessment studies.
Wells was a leading authority on both modern and fossil corals, and it was through his work with these simple fossils that he provided tangible evidence of changes in the rotational period of the earth. Geophysicists had long predicted that tidal friction should cause a slowing of the earth's rotation, but it was John Wells who, using only the simplest of equipment, counted the daily growth rings on fossil corals clearly demonstrating the predicted changes in the rotational rate. This one small paper of only three pages spawned a remarkable increase in research studies dealing with the incremental skeletal growth in many groups of invertebrates.