Stanford’s Gordon Brown wins 2012 Ian Campbell Medal

Gordon Brown Photo Credit: Linda Cicero

Stanford’s GORDON BROWN, a professor of geological and environmental sciences, has won the 2012 Ian Campbell Medal for Superlative Service to the Geosciences.

The award is given by the American Geosciences Institute.

Brown, the Dorrell William Kirby Professor of Earth Sciences and professor of photon science at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, was honored for pioneering the use of synchrotron radiation in Earth sciences. He was also recognized for his contributions as an educator, administrator and public servant.

The medal has sentimental significance to Brown. The inaugural awardee – the late RICHARD JAHNS, who served as dean of the School of Earth Sciences – recruited Brown to campus in 1973. It was good timing, Brown said, because Stanford and SLAC had just opened the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Project (SSRP), which was the first user-facility synchrotron in the world. It gave him the opportunity to pioneer innovative techniques of using the extremely intense X-rays produced by the machine. SSRP is  now the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource.

Brown used the X-rays produced by the SSRP to study extremely small quantities of elements, and in doing so pioneered techniques for probing Earth materials – soils, atmosphere, water, etc. – for various contaminants.


A very small amount of arsenic or mercury can have a big impact on human health, Brown said, and by using synchrotron radiation techniques, he could measure these in the parts-per-billion range, and even distinguish whether the element was present in a toxic form. His cutting-edge research of geochemical reactions at mineral-water interfaces has helped to focus future studies on the societal repercussions that human activities such as mining have on the global ecosystem.

Brown will receive his award at the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 5.