James R. Rice to receive ASCE Theodore von Karman Medal

Harvard engineer honored for “fundamental contributions to mechanics and its engineering applications”

ASCE presents the von Karman Medal annually to one person “in recognition of distinguished achievements in engineering mechanics.”

Cambridge, Mass. – August 5, 2014James R. Rice, Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, has been selected to receive the Theodore von Karman Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

The Engineering Mechanics Institute, part of ASCE, presents the von Karman Medal annually to one person “in recognition of distinguished achievements in engineering mechanics.”

A 33-year member of the Harvard faculty, Rice has devoted recent decades of his career to studying the mechanics and physics of Earth and environmental processes. His research has elucidated fundamental processes in geophysics—such as stressing, deformation, fracture, and flow—to address problems in seismology and tectonophysics, glaciology, and surface geologic processes, as well as in geomechanical and hydrological aspects of civil and environmental engineering. He has studied and modeled phenomena along fault systems, during landslides, and within the great ice sheets.

His research has made important theoretical contributions to the study of deformation and failure in earth materials and, in earlier decades, in metallic engineering materials, at times launching entirely new fields of study. His most recent work delves further into the causes of earthquakes and tsunamis, the melting and calving of glaciers, transitions from landslides to debris flows, and new computational modeling techniques with broad applications. 

“Rice’s work is marked by elegant mechanics, state-of-the-art computations, and penetrating interpretation of results within a broad context of laboratory and field observations,” remarked ASCE administrators in an announcement of the award. “Being an excellent communicator, Rice has been instrumental in showing the materials science and geophysics communities that careful, rigorous mechanics can address seemingly intractable problems in their disciplines.”

The medal will be presented at the Engineering Mechanics Institute 2015 conference at Stanford University.

Rice earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at Lehigh University, Penn., before beginning his career as a member of the faculty at Brown University. He joined the Harvard faculty in 1981 and has earned numerous prestigious awards and honorary degrees. He has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the American Geophysical Union. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Sciences, and a foreign member of the Royal Society of London and the French Académie des Sciences.

Scientist Profiles

James R. Rice

Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics, Emeritus