Francis Albarède wins Nemmers Prize

Francis Albarède, Emeritus Professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon and Wiess visiting professor at Rice in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, is the inaugural  Nemmers Prize winner in Earth Sciences by Northwestern University.

Albarède is recognized for his “fundamental applications of geochemistry to earth sciences” to include pioneering the use of unconventional stable isotopes as markers of natural processes and exploring the use of isotopic tracers in applications as diverse as archeology, history, biology and medicine. Image: Francis Albarède.

“I would never have expected such a huge and humbling distinction. I always thought of myself as jack-of-all-trades. It looks like my colleagues actually appreciated my contribution to the development of new instruments, such as Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometers in the ’80s and most notably Multiple Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry in the ’90s, and some long-lasting analytical protocols.”

As a regular visitor to Rice since 2008, Albarède has applied his cutting-edge mathematical models, which bridge the physics and chemistry of natural processes, to better understand the geological processes operating from within the deep earth, to the crust and beyond.  His work with Rice faculty Cin-Ty Lee and Rajdeep Dasgupta has produced work that has shifted conventional knowledge of Earths early mantle chemical behavior, as well as confirmed the status of water and other volatiles in the Moon- all based on analyses produced at Rice.

“Cin-ty’s great intuition that the lack of fractionation between zinc and iron during magma formation and ascent proved to be extremely crucial in assessing the lack of water in the Moon. Against the popular idea that the interior of the Moon may have been wet, we showed that the tenet of Apollo years, a dry Moon, was still valid.”

The Nemmers Prize endowment was created in 1994 at Northwestern University by Erwin and Frederic Nemmers for economics, mathematics, musical composition, medical science, with Earth Sciences recently added in 2016. The award includes a $200,000 cash prize, and the opportunity to spend several weeks in the fall of 2018 at Northwestern to work with students and faculty on a number of scholarly activities.

“I strongly believe that geochemistry, and particularly isotope geochemistry, has the unique power of dealing with complex systems through the laws of physics. It provides a unified vision of seemingly very different processes and objects, from earth and planetary sciences to medicine and archeology using a rather coherent set of concepts and analytical tools. My ambition at Northwestern is to put together a new course demonstrating the unifying power of Geochemistry and its applications to a range of fields and a variety of objects. This course naturally can be used at Rice during my stay in 2019.”

Scientific Publications:

Lee, C. T. A., Luffi, P., Le Roux, V., Dasgupta, R., Albarède, F., and Leeman, W. P. (2010) The redox state of arc mantle using Zn/Fe systematics. Nature 468, 681-685.

Albarede, F., Albalat, E., and Lee, C.-T. A. (2015) An intrinsic volatility scale relevant to the Earth and Moon and the status of water in the Moon. Meteoritics and Planetary Sciences, 50 (4), 568-577.

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