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William F. McDonough

William F. McDonough
William F. McDonough

The 2012 Robert Wilhelm Bunsen Medal is awarded to William F. McDonough for his outstanding contribution to our understanding of the geochemical composition and evolution of the solid Earth. His ground-breaking research in defining the major and trace element composition of primitive mantle and of modern mantle reservoirs has become a cornerstone of geochemical investigation of the Earth’s interior and will form the basis for further investigations by generations of geochemists.

William F. McDonough has contributed enormously to our knowledge of the chemical composition and geochemical evolution of the Earth. Some of his papers are among the most highly cited and most used papers in solid Earth geochemistry. For most of his career he has focused his research on the chemical compositions of the mantle, the core, both mid-ocean ridge and ocean-island basalts, and many other important geochemical reservoirs. This work was made possible by his deep understanding of global geodynamic processes and his use of cutting-edge analytical techniques, some of which he has contributed to develop. A notable example is laser ablation ICP analysis of trace elements in natural and experimentally produced samples. Using comprehensive compilations of geochemical data that he helped to create, McDonough has developed our understanding of many aspects of the geochemical evolution of the Earth. Notable examples of this work include his determination of the inventory of trace elements in mantle rocks and their distribution between the constituent minerals, U-Pb dating of zircons, analysis of rare Nb-rich phases in meteorites, analysis of experimental charges related to subjects ranging from the partitioning of platinum group elements in mantle phases to the genesis of kimberlitic melts and his examination of whether K and U might have partitioned into the core to serve as the energy source for Earth’s dynamo. Recently he has become involved in highly innovative and cross-disciplinary work on the development of methods to use geoneutrinos to determine the distribution of radioactive elements within the inaccessible portions of our planet. The development of his global models has required the synthesis of complex geochemical and geophysical data, as well as comparisons between the Earth and primitive meteorites. His work continues to show innovation, and remains of highest quality, at the cutting edge of geochemical research. In summary, McDonough is an extraordinarily innovative scientist with exceptional interdisciplinary skills, who has contributed and continues to contribute greatly to our understanding of the chemical composition of the Earth and its place in the solar system.