The Finnish Meteorite Laboratory
– Birger Wiik


Mr Fales was a peculiar businessman and a Vice-President of an International Nickel Corporation with good connections to the American Space Agency and business world. He took part in developing the X-15 aeroplane and space debris classification, but his real passion was meteorites. Mr Fales interest over meteorites is illustrated well in a story about his trip to Paris. While his wife was shopping in Lafayett, Mr Fales was taking a walk on the Paris center. He happened to remember that there was a new piece on show in a Museum in Stockholm. He had forgotten to check it earlier so he decided to leave immediately to the Museum in Sweden with his private plane. The story tells that he returned just in time to meet his wife after she was done with the shopping.

During the time in Arizona Herbert Fales introduced H.H. Nininger and Barringer Junior to Mr Wiik. Those two were among the most significant private collectors at that time. Fales picked up the Wiik family with his long Merchedes-Bentz and took them to visit Barringer Crater. During the car drive Fales told that he was tired of the problems with his car battery so he had decided to buy a new one. It was the same kind that was used in the American  gemini spacecraft, a nickel cadmium battery. So he did not need to worry any more with his car.

At the crater they met Mr H.H. Nininger and  Barringer junior. Nininger was already a legend among the meteorite people. He was the first person to invent methods to find fallen meteorite pieces. Barringer Junior was the son of famous Daniel Moreau Barringer, who had solved the mystery of the extraterrestial orgin of the Arizona Meteorite Crater. Daniel Barringer had bought the crater and his dream was to dig out the huge iron nickel mass of the meteorite and make money out of it. But this was only a dream, which often engulf the treasure hunters. Later it was found that the main mass had disintegrated in a massive explotion and all the work to find the mass was hopeless.

In any case, they got to hunt meteorite pieces around the crater with these gentlemen and got to see the American Meteorite Museum/Laboratory founded by Nininger in the 1937.

At this point of my visit, Urban interrupted his story and went over to a cabinet and took out one small plastic box. He showed me the same pieces found during that day in the Arizona Meteorite Crater. Pieces were found with metal detectors and weighted around 40 to 100g. These pieces are not so rare, but rare thing was that a Finnish researcher, at that time, had good connections to America and scientists in Arizona. He was able get to the center of meteorite researchers and got to meet the meteorite pioneers.

Nininger told Wiik about his search methods. Those ideas affected the future of meteorite searches in Finland, which Wiik arranged in a hope to find new meteorites while he was working as a curator of the Helsinki University Collection. Nininger also made his guests laugh by telling how he hunted meteorites in his trips. He told that in fact most of his pieces are from flowerbeds. While travelling in a countryside of Texas he always at first checked the flowerbed edges on farms. Normally people put there all the strange rocks that they had found. He had found many meteorites among these rocks and paid dollar or two for a piece to the housewife of the farm.

During his time with the ASU Wiik also gave lectures. In the Historic of ASU it is told that Wiik worked with breath-taking speed to get results of the compositions of meteorites and created a flying phrase: “Only good meteorite is a cut meteorite”. I think this describes the amount of conscious effort he put to his work to solve the inner compositions and structures of meteorites.

Wiik´s time in America was also the beginning of the space age. The race to the moon was on and Wiik was asked if he would be interested in moon rock analysis. Urban told that his father did not hesitate to answer yes. However, this discussion was forgotten when the Wiik family returned to Finland.

The end of the 1960´s and the beginning of the 1970´s

After returning to Finland Wiik received his docent post in the Swedish University and taught mineral analysis. From that position he was hired to the curators post in the Helsinki University Collection by Professor Sahama, a famous Finnish vulcanist. Wiik became an active curator who increased the collection by changing pieces with the foreign museums.

While being a curator of the Helsinki University Collection he also analysed most of the Finnish meteorites. Some meteorites had not been researched properly before the Second World War and for this work Wiik was the right person. In his work he normally cooperated with a famous American moon researcher Professor Mason. Wiik normally did the chemical analysis and Mason the optical work. This New Zeeland born professor worked in Indiana University and as a curator of the meteorite collections in the famous American Museum of Natural History and The Smithsonian Institute. These two people shared special interest to solve the born of the solar system.

The Finnish Meteorite Laboratory

From the Swedish University Wiik moved back to GTK, the Geological Survey Center to become the Chemistry Laboratory Director. From this job he retired in 1979. He continued the meteorite research in his home laboratory, which he named after Niningers examble: The Finnish Meteorite Laboratory. In his laboratory Wiik received a numerous amount of meteorite samples. He did chemical analysis for these pieces. Still tens of these specimens exist in his laboratory, now owned by his son.

When Wiik got older the amount he made meteorite analysis decreased, but he was interested in meteorite research and the new information concerning the birth of the solar system until the end of his life. Birger Wiik died at the age of 86 years on the 21st of April 2003. The highlight of his career was analysis of the moon rocks. After giving the yes answer in Arizona in the 1965 Wiik was contacted 1969. He was told that he is selected to be one of the few researchers to get the opportunity to study the first moon rocks.


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Jarkko Kettunen Meteorite Collection © 2020