Rare Feat: Three UC Davis Geochemists Honored at Goldschmidt Conference

Alexandra Navrotsky, William Casey and Isabel Montañez
Goldschmidt honorees Alexandra Navrotsky, William Casey and Isabel Montañez.

Three UC Davis geochemists who improved our understanding of Earth and the solar system will be honored at the Geochemical Society’s 2016 Goldschmidt Conference in Yokohama, Japan, on June 30 and July 1.

Alexandra Navrotsky, interdisciplinary professor of ceramic, earth, and environmental materials chemistry, will receive the society’s highest honor, the 2016 V. M. Goldschmidt Award for her major achievements in geochemistry.

William (Bill) H. Casey, professor of chemistry, will receive the society’s 2016 Clair C. Patterson Award for an innovative breakthrough of fundamental significance in environmental geochemistry.

Isabel Montañez, professor of earth and planetary sciences, is one of 11 scientists worldwide who will become Geochemical Fellows in 2016. Montañez is an authority in paleoclimatology, decoding the geologic record of ancient climate processes and documenting a broad range of climate behavior.

This is the first time in the history of the Geochemical Society that three researchers from the same institution will receive society honors in the same year, Navrotsky said. “UC Davis is clearly a world leader in geochemistry.”

Alexandra Navrotsky

Navrotsky’s research includes fundamental discoveries in many disciplines and at many scales, from nanotechnology to planetary interiors. Early in her research career, Navrotsky made significant contributions to the understanding of conditions inside the deep Earth through her thermodynamic studies of spinels and perovskite. Her experiments gave new insights into mantle mineralogy and the transitions that take place at elevated pressures and temperature.  Throughout her career, Navrotsky has developed new approaches and instruments for calorimetry – measuring the heat associated with chemical reactions. A custom-built calorimeter developed in Navrotsky’s laboratories has now been commercialized as the AlexySYS by French company Setaram Inc.

Navrotsky’s current research focuses on the structure and the stability of both natural and synthetic nanomaterials along with their dependence on temperature and pressure. Her work includes both natural zeolites (porous crystalline aluminosilicates) and zeolite-like structures important in the chemical industry for commercial glasses, ceramics and for refining petroleum. At UC Davis, Navrotsky is director of the Nanomaterials in the Environment, Agriculture, and Technology (NEAT) organized research unit. Since 2013, she also has served as interim dean of the Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, College of Letters and Science.

Bill Casey and Alex Navrotsky
Bill Casey and Alex Navrotsky

Navrotsky’s previous honors include the Ross Coffin Purdy Award from the American Ceramic Society, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Earth Science, the Urey Medal of the European Association of Geochemistry, the Harry H. Hess Medal of the American Geophysical Union and the Roebling Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Bill Casey

Casey is recognized for inventing a new high-pressure probe for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. His team’s inexpensive probe design doubled the pressure range available for solution NMR spectroscopy. The breakthrough means researchers can now mimic chemical reactions in water at conditions similar to those deep in the Earth's crust without the water freezing into a solid. These experiments provide insight into how water and minerals behave inside the Earth, including carbon cycling between the mantle and crust. The high-pressure NMR probe was built at UC Davis’s Crocker Nuclear Laboratory with the help of Peter Klavins, research specialist in the Department of Physics, and Steve Harley, a former UC Davis graduate student now at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Casey received the 2010 Werner Stumm Medal for technical innovation from the European Association of Geochemists and is a fellow of both the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemists.

Isabel Montañez

Montañez is a geochemist and field geologist who specializes in reconstructing past climate change and life-climate interactions. Her detailed analyses have contributed to major paradigm shifts in understanding the role that greenhouse gases have played in past climate perturbations. Her findings have implications for predicting how our climate might evolve with continued anthropogenic gas emissions. In addition, Montañez’s efforts over the past two decades to reconstruct isotopic records of ancient seawater, coupled with sea-level history, have provided new insights into the Cambrian explosion and the establishment of complex marine ecosystems. Montañez also led a National Academy of Sciences effort to develop a research vision for future studies in deep-time paleoclimatology. She holds the UC Davis Chancellor’s Chair in Geosciences and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. 

— Becky Oskin, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science