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David Griggs was a student of physics at Ohio State University when his participation in an expedition, led by his father, to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes exposed him to the notion that the earth itself is a glorious laboratory for the study of physics. This seed was cultivated by Spieker and Bucher, and Griggs went to Harvard to study with Bridgman in order to apply the latter's techniques to the determination of the properties of geologic materials. The focus of his work in the years since has been principally on the nature of creep and flow in rocks.

In 1939 Griggs published a singular paper on mountain building that showed him to be one of the first to recognize the pertinence of models of convection in the mantle to the problems of deformation of the upper parts of the earth. His model involved mantlewide convection, which may not be pertinent in the light of recent developments. Nevertheless, Griggs, with considerable foresight, saw the importance of determining the state of motion of the earth's interior as a clue to the determination of the state of irregularity of its surface. The modern notions of plate tectonics have been a happy return to the ideas of David Griggs.