Kopp Receives 2012 William Gilbert Award

Robert E. Kopp received the 2012 William Gilbert Award at the 2012 AGU Fall Meeting, held 3–7 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes outstanding and unselfish work in magnetism of Earth materials and of the Earth and planets.


KoppI take great pleasure in presenting Robert Kopp with the 2012 William Gilbert Award, recognizing his impactful, original, rigorous, and interdisciplinary scientific research spanning much of Earth history and his service to the geomagnetism and paleomagnetism (GP) research community.

Bob’s Ph.D. work focused on fossil magnetotactic bacteria and the development of techniques, such as ferromagnetic resonance spectroscopy, for rapidly detecting them in sediments. This work led to the discovery of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum magnetofossil “Lagerstätte” in the mid-Atlantic United States (dating to about 56 million years ago) and the bizarre, unusually large, and likely eukaryotic “Death Star”–like magnetofossils found therein, a real breakthrough in magnetic paleobiology and in its application to paleoenvironmental reconstruction.

Deeper in Earth history, Bob’s provocative modeling of the biogeochemical context of low-latitude “snowball Earth” glaciation in the Paleoproterozoic (about 2.3 billion years ago) and its relationship to the Great Oxygenation Event suggests a tight chronological coupling between the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis and the onset of global glaciation. Much more recently in geological time, his probabilistic analyses of the sea level records from the last interglacial stage (about 125,000 years ago) provide the most quantitative assessment to date of sea level change before the current glacial cycle.

Bob also contributed to the GP community as the original software guru for the Rock and Paleomagnetics Instrumentation Development consortium. In this capacity, he helped lay the foundations for automatic sample changers for superconducting quantum interference device (SQUID) magnetometers that are now deployed in a dozen labs on five continents. His open-source control software allows those instruments to do productive paleomagnetic and rock magnetic work, automatically, around the clock, liberating our students from the task of manually emplacing samples one at a time.

In summary, Bob has made major discoveries in biogeomagnetism and has strengthened the analytical and experimental infrastructure of the entire paleomagnetic and rock magnetic community. I look forward to seeing what he does next!

—JOSEPH L. KIRSCHVINK, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena


I have many people to thank for the honor of receiving the William Gilbert Award. Joe Kirschvink must sit at the top of the list, not just for the generosity—I hope at least partially deserved!—of his citation but also for his role as my Ph.D. mentor. During the 5 years I spent working with him at Caltech, Joe was always supportive; was as generous with his time as he has been in his words; and served as a role model for me in the way he fearlessly marched through our planet’s history, building bridges between magnetism and our understanding of climate, the biosphere, and the Earth system as a whole.

I am also truly grateful to the GP community and the support it provides its young researchers. We may be small, but there is real intellectual firepower in a community where small workshops can address meteorites one day, bacteria the next, and crystallography and dynamos on a third. And this community does not just provide its younger members support through intellectual breadth—the community spirit is well illustrated by the way the Gilbert award is given in alternate years to young scientists and to our luminaries.

I have been blessed throughout my time as a scientist with a wonderful set of mentors. In addition to Joe, my postdoc mentors Michael Oppenheimer and Adam Maloof and my American Association for the Advancement of Science Science and Technology Policy Fellowship mentor Rick Duke played key roles in shaping how I do science today. I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention my undergraduate advisor, Munir Humayun, who gave me first experiences doing science, setting me to work analyzing and modeling the Martian meteorite ALH84001, and then guided me toward graduate school with Joe. And though they are too numerous to name, my work would not be possible without my network of outstanding collaborators.

Finally, I must thank my family, without whose love and support none of my work—indeed, none of that which I am today—would have been possible.

—ROBERT E. KOPP, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N. J.