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Faculty Leaders

Mike McWilliams

Professor Michael McWilliams is a physicist whose interest in understanding how the earth works led him to pursue graduate degrees in geophysics. He joined Stanford in 1977 and taught undergraduate, graduate and continuing studies classes in geology, geochemistry and geophysics. His favorite teaching experiences have been leading the very popular introductory undergraduate geology classes and leading a Sophomore Seminar on the Origin of the Universe.

Professor McWilliams and his research colleagues measure tine quantities of radioactive isotopes contained in rocks and minerals to determine their age. They use this information to better understand Earth’s evolution, the rate of geological processes, and the history of important earth events such as volcanism, earthquakes, mass extinctions and global climate change. Professor McWilliams has also served in a variety of international science leadership roles, including as Chief Executive of GNS Science [New Zealand’s geological survey], Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Earth Science and Resource Engineering [Australia], Director of the DeLaeter Centre of Isotope Science [Australia] and as an advisor to the U.S. National Academies of Science. Apart from teaching and research, he has held many international leadership roles and previously led six Travel/Study adventures. 


  • Professor and Associate Professor, 1980–2006, and professor emeritus, since 2006, Department of Geological Sciences, Stanford University
  • Director, Stanford-USGS Ion Microbe Center, 2004–2006
  • Associate professor, Stanford Overseas Studies Program, Chile, 1999–2000
  • Director, Deep Earth Imaging Future Science Platform, since 2016, and Chief, Division of Earth Science and Resource Engineering, 2008–2013, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia
  • Chief Executive, GNS Science, New Zealand, 2013–2016
  • Director, John de Laeter Center for Isotope Science, Australia, 2006–2009


  • Lady Davis Professor, Hebrew University, 2001–2002
  • Mercator Professor, Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, 2002–2004

 Academic History:

  • BS, physics, 1972, St Lawrence University
  • MS, geophysics, 1974, University of Toronto
  • PhD, geophysics, 1978, Australian National University