Russell J. Hemley's research explores the chemistry of materials over a broad range of thermodynamic conditions from low to very high pressures. He began his research career in molecular spectroscopy and electronic structure theory. An interest in the effects of high pressures on materials led him to the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. There he began to apply and extend chemical physics techniques in high-pressure diamond anvil cell experiments. Since then, his research program has expanded to include high-pressure experimental and theoretical studies in condensed matter physics, earth and planetary science, and materials science. Some of his accomplishments include the discovery of new phenomena in dense hydrogen at megabar pressures; observations of unusual transformations in molecular materials and novel high-pressure molecular compounds; the creation of new superconductors, magnetic structures, glasses, and superhard materials under pressure. He is also involved in the continued development of high-pressure techniques, including optical methods, synchrotron radiation for diffraction and spectroscopy, and transport measurements.
He grew up in California, Colorado, and Utah, and attended Wesleyan University, where he studied chemistry and philosophy (B.A., 1977). He did his graduate work in physical chemistry at Harvard University (M.A., 1980; Ph.D. 1983). After a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard (1983-84), he joined the Geophysical Laboratory as a Carnegie Fellow (1984-86) and Research Associate (1986-87). He was a Staff Scientist from 1987-2016 and from 2007-2013, he served as Director of the Geophysical Laboratory. He is currently a Research Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at The George Washington University and a Research Physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He has been a visiting Professor at the Johns Hopkins University (1991-92) and at the Ecole Normale Superieure, Lyon (1996). He is the recipient of the 1990 Mineralogical Society of America Award, and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 2001. In 2005, he was awarded the Balzan Prize in Mineral Physics, and in 2008 he became a Corresponding Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and was elected Honoris Causa Professor for Energetics, Mechanics, Machinery, and Control Systems of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In 2009, Hemley received the Bridgman award.
He has been an author on over 620 publications.