EPS Department Adds New Junior Faculty

The Harvard Museum of Natural History is located near the Earth and Planetary Sciences department.
Several new junior faculty members have recently joined the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, according to Department Chair John H. Shaw.

Roger R. Fu ’09 and Rebecca A. Fischer began working as assistant professors of Earth and Planetary Sciences this past year, while Marine Denolle, another junior faculty member, began in Jan. 2016.

“This is my first faculty position,” Fischer said. “It’s a lot of new experiences kind of all at once: teaching for the first time, having grad students for the first time, setting up a lab. But it’s been really fun.”

This past fall, Fischer taught Earth and Planetary Sciences 142: “Mineralogy.” This spring, she is focusing on conducting research about processes in the earth’s interior during the planet’s formation.


Fischer said she enjoys the intellectual curiosity of EPS faculty.

“One of the things I really like about our department is the casual interactions that we have, both seriously or by the coffee machine on the fourth floor,” Fischer said. “People actually sit down and chat about science.”

Denolle has been in the EPS Department for two years, but she expressed equal enthusiasm about Earth and Planetary Sciences 55: “Earthquakes and Tectonics,” which she teaches during the fall and spring semesters.

“We’ve done fun lab experiments with shaking buildings, or creating earthquakes on a block on a board with springs to model the plate tectonics, and we build mountains with sandboxes,” Denolle said. “We also run some image processing using MATLAB scripting. So we’re bringing quantitative and qualitative skills to those labs.”

Shaw praised Denolle’s groundbreaking work in earthquake prediction.

“[Denolle] has pioneered the use of what we call seismic noise, which is all the stuff that we used to throw away on a seismogram that records earthquakes,” Shaw said. “It turns out to be a tremendously valuable resource. We can actually use it to simulate the ground shaking that’s going to occur in an earthquake before that earthquake even occurs.”

Fu said he uses the magnetic properties of rocks to understand magnetic fields in the deep past.

“If we look at ancient Earth rocks, we can do things like trace the motion of continents and plates because you can figure out the latitude that a rock formed at by using paleomagnetism,” he said. “You can also use it to understand the Earth’s magnetic field through time—if it varied more than now, whether it was weaker, or simply didn’t exist.”

A former EPS concentrator himself, who has taken many of the same classes as his students, Fu said he has a “better sense of what students know and don’t know.” He said this background has helped him better structure Earth and Planetary Sciences 120: “Introduction to Planetary Sciences,” the course he currently teaches, so it best fits his students’ needs.

“I took the earlier version of this class before, so I kind of cherry-picked the things I liked about it,” Fu said. “I also added some things, like the lab and the field trip [to look at rock formations in western Massachusetts and Connecticut].”

Above all, Fu said he is “really happy to be back” in the EPS Department.

“It’s a great department, and I’m happy to be promoting the next generation of geologists that come out of Harvard,” he said.

—Staff writer Amy L. Jia can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmyLJia.

—Staff writer Sanjana L. Narayanan can be reached at