Philip Skemer

Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences
Associate Director, Institute of Materials Science and Engineering

Washington University in Saint Louis
1 Brookings Dr. | Campus Box 1169 | St Louis, MO 63130 | 314-935-3584

About me: I am originally from New Jersey, and have spent most of my life on the i95 corridor. I ventured west to attend Pomona College, originally to major in physics, then philosophy, then politics. I decided to become a geologist during my sophomore year when I came to the sudden realization that looking at rocks in places like Zzyzx California was a viable career option. I went to Yale for graduate school, where I developed a life-long interest in hydraulics, power tools, and electrical tape. I have been teaching at Washington University since 2009.

Research Interests

My research interests include mantle deformation, the formation and the dynamics of plate boundaries, and the interpretation of seismological data. The underlying motivation for my research is to understand the remarkable phenomenon of plate tectonics and its variability among the terrestrial planets. While I am primarily an experimentalist, my research strategy is to use geologic or seismological observations to design experiments. I study the microstructures of naturally deformed rocks to infer the importance of specific deformation processes, and then develop experiments to investigate the sensitivity of these processes to a range of deformation conditions. From these experiments, we can make predictions about rock deformation at conditions or locations that are inaccessible to direct observation.

I am the PI of the Rock Deformation Lab at Washington University, part of the larger Experimental Studies of Planetary Materials (ESPM) group, which includes rock deformation and experimental geochemistry. Our group is also affiliated with the Institute of Materials Science and Engineering (IMSE) and the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences (MCSS). The Rock Deformation lab has an original Griggs apparatus (gray rig in the center of the panorama, above), which is currently capable of deforming materials at pressures up to 1.5 GPa and temperatures up to ~1250 C, at strain-rates of 10-4 to 10-7 s-1. We are also building a one-of-a-kind apparatus called the Large Volume Torsion (LVT) apparatus, which will facilitate deformation of materials to larger strains at pressures of up to 6 GPa. We have a variety of analytical facilities at our disposal, including an Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD) system for conducting microstructural studies of naturally and experimentally deformed materials, and a new Cameca 7f-geo SIMS instrument for high resolution geochemical analyses. Our research is currently supported by NSF through the Geophysics, Instrumentation and Facilities, MRI, and CAREER programs.

Looking for PhD programs?

If you are interested in structural geology, rock mechanics, or geodynamics, and enjoy working with your hands, please send me an email. I would be happy to discuss my research program and graduate education at Washington University.

Recent Publications

PDFRahl, J.M., Skemer P. (2016) Microstructural evolution and rheology of quartz in a mid-crustal shear zone.Tectonophysics,
PDFKranjc K., Rouse Z., Flores K., Skemer P. (2016) Low temperature plastic rheology of olivine determined by nanoindentation, Geophysical Research Letters, 43, doi: 10.1002/2015GL065837
PDFSkemer P., Hansen L.N. (2016) Inferring upper-mantle flow from seismic anisotropy: An experimental perspective. Tectonophysics,
PDFBoneh Y., Morales L.F.G, Kaminski E., Skemer P. (2015) Modeling olivine CPO evolution with complex deformation histories—Implications for the interpretation of seismic anisotropy in the mantle. G3, doi:10.1002/2015GC005964
PDFBoneh Y., Skemer P. (2014) The effect of deformation history on the evolution of olivine CPO. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 406, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2014.09.018
PDFBruijn R.H.C., Skemer P. (2014) Grain-size sensitive rheology of orthopyroxene. Geophysical Research Letters, 41, doi:10.1002/2014GL060607
PDFLinckens J., Bruijn R.H.C., Skemer P. (2014) Dynamic recrystallization and phase mixing in experimentally deformed peridotite. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 388 134–142, doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2013.11.037

Complete publication list


EPSc 201 Earth and the Environment (Spring)
EPSc 460 Introduction to Structural Geology (Fall)
EPSc 496 Undergraduate Field Experience (Spring)
EPSc 580 Deformation of Planetary Materials


Mindex_GUI.fig | Mindex_GUI.m — A matlab based graphical user interface for calculating the M-index