Bruce Watson

Institute Professor, Earth and Environmental Sciences


Williams College, 1968-1969
University of New Hampshire (B.A. in Geology, 1972)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD in Geochemistry, 1976)

Professional Career

September 1976-August 1977: Post-doctoral Fellow, Carnegie Institution of Washington
1977-present: Assistant- through Full Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
1990-1995: Chairman, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, RPI
1991-1994: Associate Dean of Science for Environmental Programs, RPI
1995 -- :  Institute Professor of Science, RPI
2011-- : Professor of Materials Science & Engineering (secondary appointment), RPI

Memberships, Awards and Honors

Early Career Award, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1982
F.W. Clarke Medal of the Geochemical Society, 1983
NSF Presidential Young Investigator, 1984-1989
Geochemical Society (fellow)
American Geophysical Union (fellow)
Mineralogical Society of America (fellow)
Geological Society of America (fellow)
European Association for Geochemistry (fellow)
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (fellow, 1996)
National Academy of Sciences (member, 1997)
President, Mineralogical Society of America, 1998
Arthur L. Day Medal, Geological Society of America (1998)
Participating Guest, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1999)
Distinguished Alumnus, Engineering & Phys. Sciences, University of New Hampshire (1999)
R.A. Daly Lecturer, American Geophysical Union, 1999
Listed in A to Z of Earth Scientists (150 notable Earth scientists, 18th century to present), 2002
Original Member, Highly Cited Researchers, ISI/Thomsen Scientific, 2002
Oualline Lecturer, University of Texas at Austin, 2004
V.M. Goldschmidt Medal of the Geochemical Society, 2005
W.H. Bucher Medal, American Geophysical Union, 2006
Kliegel Lecturer, Caltech, 2008
Murchison Medal, Geological Society of London, 2011
Woodford-Eckis lecturer, Pomona College, 2013
Doctor of Science (honorary), University of Chicago, 2013

Professional Service Highlights

Founding Executive Editor, Geochemical Perspectives Letters, 2014 --
Principal Editor, Elements Magazine, 2006-2009
Associate Editor, Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 1985-1988
Editor, Chemical Geology, 1991-1995
Editorial Boards: Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 1997-1999; Geofluids, 2003 --
Member, NRC Advisory Panel on "Physics and Chemistry of Earth Materials", 1986
Panel Member, NSF Division of Earth Sciences, 1987-1990
Mineralogical Society of America Awards Committee, 1989-1990; fellows committee (2008-2009)
Geochemical Society: Clarke Medal Committee, 1986-1989; Councilor (1991-1994); Budget Committee, 1990; Nom. Committee;(1998-2000); Goldschmidt Conference Publicity Chairman, 1990
NSF Site Committee for the Stony Brook Center for High-Pressure Research, 1992
Am. Geophys. Union: VGP Fellows Committee (1992-1995; 2001-2003); VGP Nom. Committee (1997)
Roebling Medal Committee, Mineralogical Society of America, 1993-1994
Chairman, Department of Energy O.P.A. Review Panel (Geochemistry), 1993
NSF Continental Margins Steering Committee and Workshop, 1993
Committee of Visitors, Petrology & Geochemistry Program, NSF/EAR, 1993
Committee of Visitors, Instrumentation & Facilities Program, NSF/EAR, 1997, 2010 (co-chair)
Member, Advisory Committee to the Geosciences Directorate, NSF, 2008-2010
Miller Medal Committee, National Academy of Sciences, 2010

Visiting Committees, Geoscience departments: McGill University (1991); Carnegie Institution of Washington, Geophysical Lab. (1992, 2000); Brown University (1993) Harvard University (1994, 1999); University of Houston (2002); University of Maryland (2003); Arizona State University (2004; chair); University of New Hampshire (2004; chair); Rice University (2000, 2005); California Institute of Technology (2010); Carnegie Institution for Science, Geophysical Lab (2015).

Nominating Committee, National Academy of Sciences, 2011-2013
Long-range Planning Committee, Mineralogical Society of America, 2011 --

Research interests

My research focuses on chemical phenomena that occur within the Earth and terrestrial planets, with emphasis on the outer 100 kilometers of the Earth.  I use laboratory devices in the basement of the Jonsson-Rowland Science Center to achieve conditions of elevated pressure and temperature that exist within the Earth, and I conduct experiments designed to characterize fundamental materials properties and behavior at these conditions (my research could thus be described as "materials science of the Earth").  Measurements of interest include equilibrium partitioning (distribution) of the chemical elements and their isotopes among coexisting phases (crystals, silicate melts and supercritical fluids), as well as rates of reaction and especially diffusion.  Broadly speaking, the goals of my work are to understand the internal workings of the Earth and terrestrial planets through experimentation and modeling, and to provide tools that will allow ourselves and other geoscientists to "reverse engineer" Earth materials to gain insight into our planet's history.  My laboratory facilities and skill set are well suited to the study of all types of materials under pressure, which has led to fruitful collaborations with RPI researchers in the departments of Physics, Materials Science and Chemistry on topics ranging from RNA polymerization to high-pressure mechanical properties of glasses.  As a member of RPI's Astrobiology Center, I developed a strong focus on characterizing the conditions of earliest Earth (4+ billion year ago)―the stage upon which early life took hold.  This interest will continue as a part-time theme in my research group; however, my interest in the fundamental basis of environmental proxies—that is, chemical or isotopic signatures that inform us about past environments―extends to the recent geological past and the use of knowledge gained from proxies to predict future trends.



Ph.D.: MIT (Geochemistry) B.S.: University of New Hampshire (Geology)

Research Focus
  • Inorganic chemistry of the Earth and terrestrial planets
  • Experimentation at high pressures and temperatures
  • Kinetics of reactions and diffusion
  • Early Earth history
  • Astrobiology
  • Earth materials
  • Numerical modeling of diffusion phenomena
  • Geochemical proxies
  • Isotope geochemistry
Select Works