MacArthur Fellows Program

Paul G. Richards

Seismologist | Class of December 1981

Palisades, New York
38 at time of award
Area of Focus
Earth Sciences
Published December 1, 1981

About Paul's Work

Paul Richards is a seismologist concerned with wave propagation in the Earth’s interior and with the practical aspects of monitoring underground nuclear explosions.

Richards has studied several phenomena of seismic waves that required for their explanation an appreciation of unsuspected frequency-dependent effects.  He has also contributed to the understanding of earthquake sources as a phenomenon in fracture mechanics.  In 1996, Richards and a colleague discovered from seismic observations that the Earth’s inner core is rotating faster than the planet itself. This fundamental discovery opens a new window on how the Earth’s magnetic field is created and why it reverses periodically, how heat flows through the planet, and how the Earth’s multilayered interior has evolved.  He is co-author of the work, Quantitative Seismology: Theory and Methods (1980), and co-editor of Explosion Source Phenomenology (1991).


Richards has been the Mellon Professor of Natural Sciences at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory since 1971.  His numerous articles have appeared in such journals as Astronomy & Geophysics, Science, and Nature.

Richards received a B.A. (1965) from the University of Cambridge, and an M.S. (1966) and Ph.D. (1970) from the California Institute of Technology.

Recent News

Paul Richards initiated and taught an undergraduate course on weapons of mass destruction at Columbia University from 2003 to 2013. He is still affiliated with Columbia and continues to conduct research on seismological methods to improve capability for monitoring explosions and earthquakes over vast areas of both continents and oceans. In particular, he works with others to achieve detection capability down to ever-smaller magnitudes and to improve the precision of estimates of the location of seismic events. He appreciates opportunities to work with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization in Vienna.

Updated July 2015

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