Olivier Bachmann

ETH Zurich

2018 Joanne Simpson Medal for Mid-Career Scientists Winner

Olivier Bachmann and Endawoke Yizengaw were awarded the 2018 Joanne Simpson Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony on 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The medal is for “significant contributions to the Earth and space sciences by an outstanding mid-career scientist.”


It is my great pleasure to introduce one of the two inaugural recipients of the Joanne Simpson Medal, Olivier Bachmann. Olivier has made important contributions to the field of volcanology using a combination of field work, geochemistry and petrology, geochronology, and physical modeling. It is this ability to combine various disciplines and address fundamental questions regarding the physical and chemical evolution of magmas that is the hallmark of Olivier’s research.

Olivier’s intellectual curiosity and boundless energy caught the attention of Michael Dungan and Peter Lipman (at the U.S. Geological Survey) as he started a Ph.D. on the eruption sequence of the Fish Canyon magma body (Pagosa Peak Dacite and the Fish Canyon Tuff). Integrated over his graduate studies, Olivier spent over a year in the field in southern Colorado, mapping and sampling these units. The publications that resulted have had a deep impact and opened new perspectives in our understanding of the systems that feed caldera-type eruptions. Olivier’s early research also highlighted the importance of magmatic mushes in controlling the physicochemical evolution of magma reservoirs.

As Olivier established himself as a leader in petrology and geochemistry of silicic magmas, he decided to develop a new and complementary set of skills, a courageous choice that is typical of Olivier’s mindset. He joined forces with George Bergantz (University of Washington) to develop physical models for magmatic processes and published two landmark papers on the generation of high-silica rhyolites and the reactivation of magmatic mushes preeruption. Olivier’s ability and willingness to push beyond the boundaries of his own field are a recurring theme; the same spirit led him later to take an active role in the Imaging Magma Under St. Helens (iMUSH) project, whose aim is to combine petrology and geophysics to better constrain the state of active volcanic centers in the Cascades.

Since 2012, Olivier has been the chair of the Institute of Geochemistry and Petrology at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich. His group is working on a variety of exciting and creative projects combining magmatic petrology, geochemistry, geochronology, and numerical modeling. On a more anecdotal note, Olivier holds now another distinction: He has taught the principles of volcanology in three different languages. Olivier’s enthusiasm and passion, as well as his unfaltering support, have had a deep influence on the career of many researchers in and outside his own group. I am proud to present my dear friend and inspiring collaborator as a recipient of the Joanne Simpson Medal.

—Christian Huber, Brown University, Providence, R.I.


Thank you, Christian, for your nomination, your kind citation, and your boundless support over all these years. Clearly, without you, my route would have followed a much less exciting path, and your amazing creativity, breadth, and understanding of the laws that control our fates (in science and other fields) have been, for me, powerful sources of inspiration. Being able to work with a such a friend is a chance I truly cherish.

I am, of course, deeply honored to receive such a medal, remembering the remarkable achievements of a woman and celebrating diversity within AGU. I am indebted to the letter writers and committee of this honors program, who make a tremendous effort to encourage our community to become better.

As Christian mentions in his citation, I am interested in coupling different fields to try and shed light on interesting aspects of our planet. In this endeavor, collaboration is key, and much of what I have been able to achieve over the years relies on people who have given me their trust and worked with me. Obviously, there are too many people I should thank for this list, but allow me to single out a few. First, I send my deepest appreciation to my mentors over the years, first at the University of Geneva (Mike Dungan), at the U.S. Geological Survey (Peter Lipman), and at the University of Washington (George Bergantz). Their support and the motivating atmosphere they fostered were key in the first steps of my career. I also want to thank all the students and postdocs (in particular, in the postdoc crowd, Chad Deering, Andrea Parmigiani, Wim Degruyter, Ozge Karakas, Ben Ellis, Matthieu Galvez, and Jörn Wotzlaw) who have shared their enthusiasm for magmas and volcanoes with me over the years; the working atmosphere in the group, particularly these last few years at ETH, has been fantastic, and their energy and creativity have been some of the most fulfilling rewards I have received.

As Joanne Simpson reputedly said, combining a career in academia and strong family ties is an amazing challenge; I am more than indebted to my own house team, my parents, my sister, my wife, and my three beautiful children, for turning this challenge into an everyday pleasure. This medal is for my dad, in memory of his boundless tolerance, enthusiasm, and humility.

—Olivier Bachmann, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich