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Mark Richards, an expert on the Earth's deep mantle, to take helm as dean of physical sciences at UC Berkeley
11 June 2001

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations


Mark A. Richards

Mark A. Richards, new dean for physical sciences.

Berkeley - Mark A. Richards, professor and former chair of earth and planetary science at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on the Earth's mantle, will become the campus's dean for physical sciences on July 1, 2002, Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost Paul Gray announced today (Monday, June 11).

In his new post in the College of Letters & Science, Richards will oversee faculty members and research initiatives in physics, astronomy, geosciences, mathematics and statistics.

Richards has been a member of the UC Berkeley faculty since 1989, except for a brief hiatus in 1993-94 at the University of Washington. He currently is on sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University.

Richards, 45, will take the reins from P. Buford Price, professor of physics, who has served as dean of the physical sciences since July 1992. Price plans to return to the laboratory on September 1, at which time Peter Bickel, professor of statistics, will step in as interim dean until Richards takes over next year.

"I'm delighted that Mark took the job," Price said. "One of his strengths is that he comes into the job aware of the need to raise funds to rebuild many of the facilities housing the physical sciences. A new physical sciences building is still a dream, but we need a dean like Mark who is interested in aggressively raising money to make it possible."

Though all five physical sciences departments are ranked in the top five nationwide, many faculty labor in outdated buildings without the modern laboratories needed for cutting edge research. The home of the physics department, LeConte Hall, dates from 1924, while the astronomy department is crowded into the top five floors of Campbell Hall, built in 1959 and containing no modern laboratory space.

Campus administrators hope that money can be raised to replace Campbell Hall and parts of LeConte Hall, and to build underground laboratories modern enough to do low-vibration experiments and atomic and nano-scale physics, as well as to house new centers for the study of atmospheric and planetary sciences.

"Fundraising for new laboratory facilities will be a top priority," Richards said, "along with increasing physical sciences participation and leadership in interdisciplinary research and education in areas such as nanoscience, planetary and environmental science, astrophysics, and various fields of applied mathematics and statistics."

Richards stood in as acting dean last year while Price was on sabbatical, and he impressed campus administrators.

"We got the chance to see him in action for a year, and he was superb," Price said.

The search committee also was impressed by Richards' commitment to undergraduate education and his eagerness to work to improve the environment, both intellectual and social, for faculty and students.

Richards, a native of Texas, obtained a BS in engineering science from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1977, then moved to Caltech, from which he graduated in 1986 with a PhD in geophysics.

He joined the University of Oregon faculty in 1987 and came to UC Berkeley in 1989. After leaving briefly in 1993 for the University of Washington, Seattle, he returned as a full professor of geophysics in 1994. He served as chair of the Department of Geology & Geophysics, now the Department of Earth & Planetary Science, from 1997 until 1999.

His research involves convection in the Earth's mantle, the hot, viscous region below the crust but above the molten iron core. He has studied how convection in the mantle affects numerous
properties of the Earth, from its rotation and gravity to the size and shape of tectonic plates that cover the surface like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Richards is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and in 1990 received the prestigious Presidential (now National Science Foundation) Young Investigator Award. He was on the editorial board of the journal Geology from 1994 to 1997, and served as associate editor of Geophysical Research Letters from 1988 to 1991.