Donald Weidner

2011 Inge Lehmann Medal Winner

Donald J. Weidner was awarded the 2011 Inge Lehmann Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 7 December 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “outstanding contributions to the understanding of the structure, composition, and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle and core.”


We honor Donald Weidner for his pioneering experiments on the elastic and rheological properties of Earth materials in conjunction with synchrotron X-radiation and for his outstanding leadership in high-pressure mineral physics. For his early work applying Brillouin spectroscopy to measuring the elastic properties of single crystals, Don received AGU’s Macelwane Medal 30 years ago.

With the establishment of the High Pressure Laboratory at Stony Brook University in 1985, Don led the installation of a multianvil, high-pressure apparatus on the superconducting wiggler beamline at the National Synchrotron Light Source of the Brookhaven National Laboratory. Using this apparatus, Weidner and his colleagues have performed pressure-­volume-­temperature measurements of the equations of state for many mantle minerals and developed techniques to use the X-ray diffraction spectra to elucidate the state of deviatoric stress acting on the specimens under high pressures and temperatures. In collaboration with Yanbin Wang, William Durham, and Ivan Getting, Don developed a new type of high-pressure deformation apparatus capable of generating pressures of up to 15 gigapascals and temperatures of up to 2000 K in conjunction with synchrotron X-radiation.

Weidner’s experimental work has always been focused on improving our understanding of the chemical evolution, global structure, and dynamics of the Earth’s mantle. Such an approach is all too infrequent in petrology and mineral physics but is critical in making these experimental results useful to the global geophysical community. These interpretative papers have also been used by Weidner to guide the future thrusts of his experimental laboratory program.

Weidner was the founder and is the director of the Mineral Physics Institute (MPI) at Stony Brook University. MPI served as the headquarters from 1991 to 2002 of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science and Technology Center for High Pressure Research (CHiPR), for which Weidner served as director and principal investigator, in collaboration with Alexandra Navrotsky, Charles Prewitt, and Robert Liebermann.

The other aspect of Weidner’s career worthy of recognition is his enormous service to the broad mineral physics community. In 2002 he was the principal architect of a new NSF-funded initiative, the Consortium for Materials Properties Research in Earth Sciences (­COMPRES), and served as the founding chair of the Executive Committee. COMPRES is now a flourishing enterprise with 56 U.S. member institutions and 39 foreign affiliates and provides funding for the operation of community facilities at national laboratories and infrastructure development of new technologies for high-pressure experimentation.

For his significant and distinctive contributions to technological advances in mineral physics, his determination of the physical properties of many mantle minerals and their high-pressure phases, his papers using mineral physics data to determine the chemical composition and mineralogy of the Earth’s mantle, and his leadership of COMPRES, we are pleased to honor Don Weidner with the 2011 AGU Inge Lehmann Medal.


—Robert Liebermann, Department of Geo­sci­ences and Mineral Physics Institute, State University of New York at Stony Brook; and Guy Masters, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla


Bob, thank you for your kind words. AGU, thank you for this honor. I particularly appreciate the recognition of the important role that mineral physics plays in understanding the Earth’s interior.

After being raised in the farmland of Ohio, in search of college training I traveled to the mecca of education, Cambridge, Mass. Four years at Harvard and 5 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) changed my view of the world. The extremes of the excitement and the work of learning opened my eyes to a wholly new view of life. Finally, in graduate school, I had sharpened my student skills to the point that I realized I had a choice: I could either get an A in a course or learn something. But I couldn’t do both. I quickly finished my course work and stepped into the world of research. Once again, my world view made a big change. Scholarship transitioned from a world of drudgery to one of enormous excitement. I’m still in that place today. I have always marveled at the fact that I get paid to do the things that I really enjoy doing.

My Ph.D. thesis was with Kei Aki, studying Rayleigh waves from mid-Atlantic earthquakes. Kei was a great role model: brilliant, insightful, and always a bit surprised that I had missed some obscure study that might have a vague application to my work. It was during this time that my fascination of the deep Earth was baked into my soul. Nafi Toksoz told me of a faculty position at Stony Brook and suggested that I apply. I thus transitioned to Stony Brook directly from graduate school to assistant professor.

Inspired by Prewitt and Papike, who were studying tiny crystals with X-rays, I found a tool to study elastic properties of these small minerals. Brillouin spectroscopy played to my physics undergraduate degree and yet allowed me to focus on the properties of the mantle. I needed samples, and the Japanese had taken the lead in creating high-pressure phases with large volumes. This led to my lifelong friendship with many Japanese colleagues: Akimoto, Yagi, Ito, Kumazawa, Shimomura, Fukanaga, and many more.

Liebermann, Prewitt, and I bought some equipment from the Japanese companies and were ready to push high-pressure studies on a couple of fronts, at which point Prewitt decided to accept the directorship of the geophysical lab and left us. Bob Liebermann and I decided that Bob would take the lead on the in-house system and I would oversee the synchrotron system. At that point I could barely spell synchrotron, and I knew little about X-ray tools. But this has become one of the most fascinating adventures in my career. One can literally see the sample at high pressure and temperature, and Li Li showed us how to make quantitative measurements on it. New observations continue to open up that give insights into the behavior of the material and how that behavior affects the deep Earth.

Success in this journey has been supported by colleagues who are irreplaceable. We simply would not have succeeded without them. Mike Vaughan has been a vital part of the synchrotron effort and a great friend. I have been surrounded by stimulating, brilliant, and capable people such as Li Li and Bill Huebsch. Many people at the National Science Foundation have made a great difference to our field. Robin Reichlin and Sonia Esperanca care about the science and the people.

I must acknowledge my parents, who gave me both the tools and the permission to achieve, and my older brother, Jerry, who was always a great role model and my strongest supporter.

I choose to celebrate with my colleagues and friends, as this award recognizes the contribution of us all.

Thank you.


—Donald J. Weidner, Department of Geosciences and Mineral Physics Institute, State University of New York at Stony Brook