Bill Brace

Monday, May 7, 2012

Professor Emeritus William Brace '46 XIII, '49 I, PhD '53 XII died on 2 May 2012 of complications after heart surgery.

Bill was a legend in rock physics and served as department head from 1981 to 1988. 

With a long list of colleagues and students, Bill pioneered the idea of quantifying the effect of microstructure and damage on the strength of rocks during natural deformation. The scientific contributions that came from his lab include Byerlee's law, the Goetze-Brace strength profiles and the notion that studying stick-slip frictional events can help to understand earthquakes. He made a lasting impact on the Earth sciences through the training, methods, and standards that he imparted to those with whom he worked.

Among the many accomplishments of his seven-year tenure as Department Head was the merger in 1983 of Course XII (Earth and Planetary Sciences) with Course XIX (Meteorology and Physical Oceanography) to form the present Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. During his tenure he was instrumental in recruiting several key faculty members, including Brian Evans, John Grotzinger, Kip Hodges, Tom Jordan, Marcia McNutt, Dan Rothman, Wiki Royden, and Jack Wisdom. Moreover, he initiated the Thursday faculty meetings with free lunch, a tradition that we still enjoy today and which has become a core place for interaction of the faculty, lecturers, and senior research staff.

Bill’s contributions have been recognized by election to the National Academy of Sciences, by selection as a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, the American Geophysical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was presented with the Bucher Medal of the American Geophysical Union in 1987 and with a Distinguished Achievement Award from the U.S. National Committee on Rock Mechanics in the same year. From 1976 to 1988, he was the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Geology.

Bill will be missed by many friends and colleagues, but his enormous impact on MIT and Earth science endures.


Obituary in MIT News (May 8, 2012)

Boston Globe Obituary (June 12, 2012)