Professor Edward Stolper

Doctor of Science
Monday 16 July 2018 - Orator: Professor Laura Robinson


It is an honour for us to welcome Ed Stolper here today. We also welcome his extended family who have travelled from the USA to share this special occasion. Ed is an igneous petrologist, studying the origin of rocks and minerals. We have been lucky enough to host Ed here at the University of Bristol a number of times over the last few years, and he has provided support and encouragement as well as new ideas and inspiration to all of our staff and students in earth Sciences.

Ed’s connection to Bristol began more than 15 years ago when he worked with our Volcanology Group to examine how gases are incorporated into volcanic rocks. These gases cause volcanoes to be explosive – and with ongoing eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala leading to disruption and loss of life it is important to be able to predict the behaviour of volcanoes. Ed has lead the drilling of the deepest holes on Earth, reaching down thousands of metres below Hawaii. He used the rocks from this drilling program to examine the processes that occur below the Hawaiian volcanoes. He also examined the micro-scale chemical composition of these volcanic rocks to find out how they formed. An ongoing theme in Ed’s scientific career is this unusual ability to use very detailed analyses to answer big questions.

Many of us have looked up at the night sky and wondered what we are looking at. Ed put these thoughts into action; he is an astronaut who has not had to leave the surface of the Earth. He has been inspired to explore the great mysteries of the universe: how did it form? Is there life on other planets? His early research was on meteorites – the tantalising rock fragments that fall to Earth from outer space. He carried out detailed experiments to reproduce the compositions of these rocks in the lab, and used this work to develop a model for the evolution of Vesta, one of the largest objects in the asteroid belt. Ed went on to study the Moon, and then Mars. In more recent years he played a key role in the development of the Mars Curiosity Rover mission. As part of this mission he has contributed to exciting discoveries: there may have been water on Mars, and some of the rocks on Mars are actually quite similar to the ones you may find in Scotland – without having to travel quite so far.

Ed has been a Professor at Caltech since 1979. In that time he has maintained his stellar scientific career as well as providing leadership within his institution and beyond. His research has led to numerous international accolades, including being awarded Foreign Membership of the UK’s Royal Society. At Caltech his time as Head of School saw him change the face of Earth sciences with a raft of hires in exciting new fields. For my part, Ed was the Head of School when I moved to Caltech as a junior postdoc. I was astonished by the excitement and enthusiasm for science at Caltech, and I realised that showing passion for your subject is a delight and not something to keep quiet. Sharing your ideas in the corridors or dropping into someone’s office to show your new data were all encouraged. Being proud of your work is something we should all aspire to – whatever we choose to do.

At Caltech, Ed took on the challenging role of Provost, then interim President. By all accounts, Ed’s leadership has been marked by his unique set of personal strengths and values. He takes the time to understand people as individuals, and places a high value on helping people get what they need to flourish, whether that means intellectual stimulation, resources or help with their personal lives. Ed leads through close, genuine relationships – a characteristic that shines through whenever you talk to his friends, family or colleagues. Some of this attitude must have rubbed off at home as well:  Ed’s son Daniel who is here today, is also an innovative scientist and thinker, using exciting new techniques to look at how climate on our planet is changing, as well as seeking hints of life on other planets.

Downstairs we have an original copy of the first geological map of the Earth drawn 200 years ago. Ed helped us to organise the celebration of this anniversary on one of his visits. You can go and take a look at it while you are waiting for your graduation photos. When you do that you can think about what it took to make that map, and how much progress we have made since. Thanks to the efforts of Ed and his many colleagues, we not only know about how igneous rocks behave in the deep Earth, we also know how the moon and the planets formed, and we continue to find new answers to our questions about life elsewhere in the universe.

Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Edward Manin Stolper as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Science honoris causa.

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