Carlson Receives 2008 Norman L. Bowen Award

Richard W. Carlson received the Norman L. Bowen Award at the 2008 AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held 17 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to volcanology, geochemistry, or petrology.


carlson_richard-wThis year’s recipient of the Norman L. Bowen Award is Richard W. Carlson, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Carlson’s scientific career was launched at University of California, San Diego, where he helped es-tablish the utility of the samarium-neodymium isotopic system by using it in three very important ways: lunar and meteoritic cosmochronology, mid-ocean ridge basalt heterogeneity, and the origin of flood basalts. Carl-son has since worked at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism where he helped develop some of the petrologic uses of important isotopic systems such as 147Sm-143Nd, Pd-Ag, Re-Os, and 146Sm-142Nd.

Carlson deserves the Bowen Award because he has shown how to combine isotopes, trace elements, and planetary physics with petrology to address large-scale geochemical and cosmochemical problems. He has made important contributions in very different areas: early solar system cosmochronology, mantle geochemistry, magmas as tracers of mantle processes, Archean mantle lithospheric evolution, crustal evolution of the western United States, and isotopic techniques. Two of his most recent papers on the formation of early Earth reservoirs and dating of the oldest terrestrial rocks have had huge impacts on the field of geochemistry.

Carlson has shown strong professional leadership. He has run large, multiyear, multinational, multidisciplinary continental dynamics projects with huge seismological components. He has given significant public service to AGU and the Geochemical Society and has served as a most efficient and thorough editor at Earth and Planetary Science Letters. Above all, he has been an exceptional research staff colleague.

Modern petrology has become more diverse since Bowen’s day and includes modeling, geodynamics and seismic imaging, trace elements, stable isotopes, and long- and short-lived radiogenic isotopes. Perhaps more than that of any recipient to date, Carlson’s research exemplifies this diversity.

Steven B. Shirley, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D. C.


Thank you for the kind words, Steve, and especially for the many years of enjoyable collaboration. I would like to thank those who nominated me, the Bowen Committee, the Volcanology, Geochemistry, and Petrology (VGP) section, and AGU for affording me this much appreciated honor. Scientific research is a pursuit that provides mostly private rewards through the thrill of discovery. In fact, at least in my experience, the more important the findings one produces, the more flack one receives from peers. But this is the aspect of Earth science that I find particularly appealing—that the problems we try to solve are fundamental, and hence complicated and not prone to revealing their solution easily, and certainly not without extensive debate and discussion with others working in the field. Receiving an award like the Bowen provides the great joy of knowing that the body of work done has made a positive impression on my esteemed colleagues in the VGP community.

Of course, my research is greatly aided by working at a place like the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where an enlightened administration only interferes when necessary, but otherwise provides the resources and support that give their staff an unfair advantage in the research arena. The Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) also is blessed with a great group of colleagues and a strong postdoctoral program. There is no question that I have benefited greatly from my association with the many creative and hardworking postdocs, students, and visiting scientists who have spent time in the DTM laboratories. I am particularly grateful to my wife, Sonia, with whom I share tales of the day’s events, and also benefit from her insight and expertise on the petrogenesis of the many funny named alkalic rock types that I’ve analyzed. I sincerely thank the VGP community for providing the scientific forum for my career, and for this award.

Richard W. Carlson, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington, D. C.