Alexandra Navrotsky

2006 Harry H. Hess Medal Winner

University of California at Davis

Alexandra Navrotsky was awarded the Harry H. Hess Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting honors ceremony, which was held on 13 December 2006 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal recognizes outstanding achievements in research in the constitution and evolution of Earth and other planets.


It is a great privilege and honor to introduce Alexandra Navrotsky as the recipient of the 2006 Harry H. Hess Medal. She is an outstanding scientist who has made important contributions to our understanding of minerals and other materials through a wide range of theoretical and experimental applications of thermodynamics. She was trained as a physical chemist and originally approached oxide chemistry through a materials perspective. However, her interests broadened and she became known as a leading authority in a wide range of subjects from chemistry through materials science to the geosciences. She held faculty positions at Arizona State University (Tempe) and Princeton University (N.J.) and is now at the University of California, Davis.

Alex has always impressed us by her depth of understanding of mineral chemistry, and we think she is the world’s leading scientist in the field of thermochemistry of minerals and related solid-state materials. At conferences she always has something important to say and in many instances demonstrates the ability to ask questions that go right to the heart of the matter being discussed.

Alex is recognized as a world leader in the geoscience community. She has trained a generation of students and postdoctoral fellows, scientists who now lead geoscience programs as faculty members in universities worldwide. Beginning with her early years in academia, she organized numerous workshops, conferences, symposia, and short courses that broke new ground in understanding the energetics, structures, and bonding in minerals and related materials. Her efforts at Arizona State and Princeton were instrumental in opening up the field of mineral physics, and she helped to spearhead the effort that eventually led to the creation of the Center for High Pressure Research—located at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and Princeton University—the U.S. National Science Foundation Science and Technology Center, where for 11 years she not only served as a coprincipal investigator but also was one of its most effective spokespersons. During this time, she was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and was the first woman faculty member to be so elected from Princeton University.

While continuing to contribute to high-pressure geoscience, in the pastseveral years Alex has focused her attention on nanomaterials, microporous, and other complex materials of the near-surface environment. This effort includes studies at the bio-geo interface. While maintaining a foothold in thermochemistry, she continues to lead teams and collaborate with scientists utilizing whatever complementary techniques are necessary to understand materials phenomena, including neutron scattering, synchrotron radiation, vibrational spectroscopy, and ab initio calculations. This effort has been facilitated by her latest Center creation, Nanomaterials in the Environment, Agriculture, and Technology (NEAT), a unique and well-funded new enterprise that spans the physical and biological sciences.

In conclusion, with over 500 published papers covering order-disorder phenomena, glasses and melts, perovskites and oxides, and nanomaterials and microporous materials, it is difficult to find a person having a greater impact in the mineral sciences. Therefore we are very pleased that our longtime friend and colleague, Alexandra Navrotsky, is to receive the 2006 Harry H. Hess Medal of the American Geophysical Union.

—CHARLES T. PREWITT and ROBERT C. LIEBERMANN, University of Arizona, Tucson; and Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, N.Y.


I am deeply honored to receive the Harry Hess Medal from AGU. I thank my nominators, supporters, friends, and colleagues. As the first woman to receive this medal, and the first recipient who has been on the Princeton University (N.J.) faculty, where Hess’s spirit lives on, this honor means all the more. My career has taken me from A to Z, amphiboles to perovskites to spinels to zeolites, from the lower mantle to the Earth’s surface, from solid state chemistry to materials science to nanoscience, nuclear waste disposal, and energy, and to geochemistry and mineral physics. All these topics represent intellectual variations on the same theme, namely, what it is on the microscopic scale that determines the stability of solids on the macroscopic scale.

I have been fortunate and happy in my career and life, both for its science and for the deep friendships, human insights, and international connections it has brought. Opportunity and luck have come to me, but admittedly luck favors the prepared mind. I have worked hard and had wonderful support and encouragement from colleagues, starting long before the word ‘mentor’ was anything but the name of an ancient Greek citizen. A positive attitude and a sense of humor have helped me through the rough spots. Too often I see young people hesitating about entering a faculty career, fearing it is too hard, too competitive, too uncertain. Yes, the stresses now are different, but I will not bore you with the problems of 35 years ago. To all, I say, “go for it!” The scientific quest is a joy in itself, and despite the seeming odds, you may succeed beyond your wildest expectations.

In my student and postdoc days, Ole Kleppa, Bob Newton, Hermann Schmalzried, and Arnulf Muan helped me form my scientific personality. My early career at Arizona State University was made possible by LeRoy Eyring and Morton Munk and helped by John Holloway, Peter Buseck, Mike O’Keeffe, and many others. At Princeton and now at the University of California, Davis, I have friends and colleagues too numerous to thank individually. In the profession let me single out Bob Liebermann, Charlie Prewitt, Don Weidner, Jerry Gibbs, Sue Kieffer, Tom Ahrens, Syun-iti Akimoto, Ted Ringwood, and Ian Carmichael. They and many others welcomed me, a chemist, into the geosciences. I thank the students and postdocs who have worked with me; many have gone on to research careers, and some are here at this ceremony. Last, I thank my late mother, personal friends, and the many pet dogs, past and present, who have given unconditional love. Finally, let me thank AGU again for this recognition.

—ALEXANDRA NAVROTSKY, University of California at Davis