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Professor Has an Earthshaking Idea That No One Seems to Buy : Science: CSUN's Lorence G. Collins says gases within the planet are behind quakes, oil and formation of the continents. Critics sneer at his theory.

October 18, 1992|SAM ENRIQUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By the 1960s, the idea--now known as plate tectonics--was being incorporated into textbooks.

"When I was an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, I attended a lecture by a man on this and then watched in amazement as all the professors said he had to be wrong," said Collins, who went on to earn his Ph.D. in geology there.

Collins is hoping that science will eventually accept his theories. They grew from observations of an outcropping he found in Temecula that shows the gradual transformation of one type of rock into a type of granite. Conventional science--which argues that granite is formed from molten rock--does not fully explain what he found, said Collins, but his gas theory does.

But even CSUN graduate students have steered clear of Collins during the past 25 years. Only one student, Dave Liggett, had Collins supervise his master's thesis during that time.

"Early on, I was very interested in his theory," said Liggett, now a technician in the CSUN geology department. "It was interesting and sounded like it was on the cutting edge. His ideas flew in the face what we were learning at school."

But Liggett found another topic of interest and his thesis ended up on more conventional ground.

"Most people look at his stuff and say, 'This guy has been smoking something,' " he said.

Collins has heard plenty of such talk. So did his father, a research chemist who faced similar skepticism over his research in soybean production.

Collins said his father found that exposing soybean seeds to massive doses of radiation, 10 times more than the amount needed to ruin the seeds, would instead produce plants four times the size of normal ones.

Collins said that professional jealousy by his bosses at the University of Illinois prevented Collins' father from getting credit for his work in the U.S., although the results were eventually published in India.

"I picked up from my father the idea that it is worth the risk of looking foolish or crazy to pursue something you believe in," Collins said. "Some scientists are afraid to try something new because of the threat of ridicule, but I have no regrets."

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