James R. Rice

James R. Rice

  • Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics


Professor Rice addresses the mechanics and physics of earth and environmental processes. That involves the solid and fluid mechanics of stressing, deformation, fracture and flow to address problems in seismology and tectonophysics, glaciology, and surficial geologic processes, as well as in geomechanical and hydrological aspects of civil and environmental engineering.

In his work on earthquakes, he has addressed rupture nucleation in relation to laboratory fault friction properties, dynamic slip propagation, and stressing and seismicity in the lithosphere, and has developed models of earthquake sequences and interactions along faults. That work has addressed continental strike-slip zones, particularly the San Andreas fault, and subduction zones worldwide. Also, he has developed the theory of poroelastic and other effects in fluid-infiltrated earth materials, with applications in geophysics and geotechnology, and has contributed to the theory of deformation localization into shear zones, the constitutive representation and stability analysis of frictional slip, and the modeling of landslides. His work on engineering mechanics and materials physics has addressed the theory of stress fields near crack tips and crack propagation, especially in elastic-plastic metals, brittle cracking along interfaces between dissimilar materials, conservation integral metodology in fracture theory, the structure of inelastic constitutive relations for ductile crystals and polycrystals, microscopic mechanisms of cleavage and dislocation generation at crack tips, ductile rupture by plastic hole growth, creep failures by diffusive cavitation, and the thermodynamics of interfacial embrittlement by solute segregation. As part of his work, he has contributed to techniques of finite-element computational mechanics for inelastic and large-strain problems, and more recently to spectral computational methods for crack and fault dynamics.

Current work in his group is on the science of earthquakes and on hydrologic processes involving fluid interactions with deformation and failure of earth materials as they arise in seismology as well as in landslides, glacial motions, fluid injections, and tsunamis. Topics include slip-rupture dynamics through branched and offset fault systems, including effects of damaged fault-border zones, physics of fault friction, thermally driven pore fluid pressurization and fault weakening in rapid slip, seismicity and transient aseismic deformations in subduction zones, tsunami generation and propagation, landslides and the transition to debris flows, meltwater penetration through glaciers, sliding processes at their beds and iceberg calving, and computational mechanics methodology for problems in some of those domains.

Contact Information

Office:224 Pierce
Office Phone:(617) 495-3445
Assistant:Virginia Casas
Assistant Office:Pierce Hall 208
Assistant Phone:617/496-1456

Primary Teaching Area

Environmental Science & Engineering

Positions & Employment


Harvard School/Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences

  • July 2001-Present: Mallinckrodt Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics
  • September, 1981-June 2001, Gordon McKay Professor of Engineering Sciences and Geophysics
Brown University, Division of Engineering
  • July 1973-August 1981: L. Herbert Ballou Professor of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics
  • July 1970-August 1981: Professor of Engineering
  • July 1968-June 1970: Associate Professor of Engineering
  • July 1965-June 1968: Assistant Professor of Engineering 
  • September 1964 June 1965: NAS-NRC Postdoctoral Fellow and Research Associate

Other Experience & Professional Membership

  • Faculty Advisor, Engineers Without Borders USA, Harvard University Student Chapter, 2008-Present
  • Scientific Advisory Committee, ParisTech (formerly, Grandes Ecoles d'Ingénieurs de Paris), 2008-Present
  • Advisory Board, Acta Geophysica, 2006-Present
  • International Advisory Committee, Engineering Science Programme, National University of Singapore, 2006-2010
  • Scientific Advisory Committee, Département Terre Atmosphère Ocean, École Normale Supérieure, Paris, 2005-2009
  • Editorial Advisory Board, Acta Geotechnica, 2005-Present
  • Scientific Advisory Board, San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) of NSF Earthscope Program, 2004-2009
  • Board of Directors, NSF-USGS Southern California Earthquake Center, 2002-Present
  • Visiting Committee Member, Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT, 2001-2009
  • Spanish Academy of Engineering, Corresponding Member, 2001
  • Académie des Sciences, Institut de France, Associé Étranger (Foreign Member), 2000
  • Advisory Board, School of Earth Sciences, Stanford University, 1998-2000
  • Committee on Science of Earthquakes, National Research Council Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources, 1996-2002
  • Committee on Seismology, National Research Council Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics and Resources, 1992-1998
  • Council on Materials Sciences, Materials Sciences Program of Basic Energy Sciences Division, Department of Energy, 1997-1999
  • Royal Society of London, Foreign Member, 1996
  • American Physical Society, Materials Physics Division, Member, 1995
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh, Honorary Fellow, 1990
  • American Academy of Mechanics, Member, 1988; Fellow, 1990
  • Board of Trustees, Lehigh University, 1988-1998
  • American Geophysical Union, Member, 1975; Fellow 1988
  • National Academy of Sciences, Member, 1981
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Member; Fellow, 1981
  • National Academy of Engineering, Member, 1980
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Member, 1964 ; Fellow, 1980
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Fellow, 1978
  • Editorial Board, Quarterly of Applied Mathematics, 1978-Present
  • Editorial Advisor, Journal of the Mechanics and Physics of Solids, 1978-Present
  • American Society of Civil Engineers, Member, 1976


  • Panetti-Ferrari International Prize for Applied Mechanics, Academy of Sciences of Turin, November 2008
  • Maurice A. Biot Medal, American Society of Civil Engineers, for “Fundamental contributions to the mechanics of porous metals and geomaterials with applications to soil mechanics, geophysics and materials science and engineering”, June 2007
  • Honorary Doctoral Degree, Israel Institute of Technology (Technion), June 2005
  • Spanish Academy of Engineering, elected Corresponding Member, 2001
  • Académie des Sciences, Institut de France, elected Associé Étranger (Foreign Member), 2000
  • Excellence in Mentoring Award, Graduate Student Council, Harvard University, 1999
  • Honorary Doctoral Degree, University of Pierre and Marie Curie (University of Paris VI), 1999
  • Blaise Pascal International Research Professorship, awarded by the Region Ile-de-France through the Foundation of École Normale Supérieure, Paris, for the 1999 calendar year, for research on "Rupture dynamics in seismology and materials physics".
  • Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Brown University, September 1997
  • Nadai Award, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, "for major contributions to the fundamental understanding of plastic flow and fracture processes in engineering and geophysical materials; and for the invention of the J-Integral which forms the basis for the practical application of nonlinear fracture mechanics to the development of standards of safety of structures", 1996
  • Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Northwestern University, 1996
  • Francis J. Clamer Medal for Advances in the Field of Metallurgy, Franklin Institute, for "development of the J-integral for the accurate prediction of elastic-plastic fracture behavior in metal from easily obtained data", 1996
  • Royal Society of London, elected Foreign Member, for work on "earthquakes and solid mechanics", 1996
  • Timoshenko Medal, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, "for seminal contributions to the understanding of plasticity and fracture of engineering materials and applications in the development of computational and experimental methods of broad significance in mechanical engineering practice", 1994
  • Francis Birch Lecturer, American Geophysical Union, on "Problems in Earthquake Source Mechanics", 1993
  • American Academy of Mechanics Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, 1992
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh, elected Honorary Fellow, 1990
  • American Academy of Mechanics, elected Fellow, 1990
  • William Prager Medal of the Society for Engineering Science for "outstanding achievements in solid mechanics", 1988
  • American Geophysical Union, elected Fellow, 1988
  • Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Lehigh University, 1985
  • George R. Irwin Medal of the American Society for Testing and Materials, Committee E-24 on Fracture Testing, shared with J.W. Hutchinson, for "significant contributions to the development of nonlinear fracture mechanics", 1982
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, elected Fellow, 1981
  • National Academy of Sciences, elected Member, 1981
  • International Congress on Fracture, elected Honorary Fellow, 1981
  • National Academy of Engineering, elected Member, 1980
  • American Society of Mechanical Engineers, elected Fellow, 1980
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences, elected Fellow, 1978
  • U.S. National Committee for Rock Mechanics Award for Outstanding Research in Rock Mechanics, June 1977, shared with J.W. Rudnicki, based on the co-authored paper "Conditions for the localization of deformation in pressure-sensitive dilatant materials" (J. Mech. Phys. Solids, 1975, 23, p. 371)
  • Pi Tau Sigma Gold Medal Award of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers "for outstanding achievement in mechanical engineering within ten years following graduation", 1971
  • Henry Hess Award of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for the paper "A Path Independent Integral and the Approximate Analysis of Strain Concentration by Notches and Cracks" (ASME J. Appl. Mech., 1968, 35, p. 379), 1969
  • Charles B. Dudley Medal of the American Society for Testing and Materials for the paper "Mechanics of Crack Tip Deformation and Extension by Fatigue" (ASTM STP-415, 1967, p. 237), 1969