Robert van der Hilst

Head of Department
Schlumberger Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences

Contact Info:

Office Phone






David Wright 617.253.3382

Seismologist probing Earth's deep interior structure, from sedimentary basins near the surface to the core–mantle boundary 2,800 km below.

Research Interests

I engage in cross-disciplinary and collaborative research focused on understanding geological processes in Earth’s deep interior, both on a regional scale – for instance, the continental structure and evolution of Tibet, East Asia, and North America, the subduction of oceanic plates beneath western Pacific island arcs, the upper mantle transition zone beneath Hawaii, and the complex region just above the core mantle boundary beneath Asia and Central America – and on the global scale, unraveling the pattern and nature of mantle convection. The main tools I use and develop are global reflection seismology and seismic tomography, integrated with constraints from geology, geomagnetic plate reconstructions, mineral physics, and geodynamics.

Topics I investigate:

  • Seismic imaging of Earth’s deep interior structure from reservoir to planetary scales (travel time and waveform tomography; inverse scattering)
  • Geodynamics of convergent plate boundaries and the mode of mantle convection
  • Heterogeneity and anisotropy of Earth’s crust and upper mantle
  • Continental evolution

Biographic Sketch

Rob van der Hilst received his PhD in Geophysics from Utrecht University in 1990. After postdoctoral research at the University of Leeds (1990-1992) and the Australian National University (1992-1995) he joined the faculty of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) at MIT in 1996. Van der Hilst was the Director of the Earth Resources Laboratory (ERL) from 2004 until 2012 when he was appointed to the role of EAPS Department Head. In addition to his work at MIT, Van der Hilst has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Utrecht (The Netherlands) and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (France).

Van der Hilst was named a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 1997 and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. Before he was named the Schlumberger Professor in 2011, Van der Hilst held a Cecil and Ida Green Professorship and a Kerr-McGee Career Development Professorship. His work has garnered significant recognition, including the Doornbos Memorial Prize from the International Association of Seismology and Physics of the Earth’s Interior, AGU’s James B. Macelwane Medal, a Packard Fellowship, and a VICI Innovative Research Award from the Dutch National Science Foundation.

Key Awards & Honors

  • 2014 • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2003 • VICI Innovative Research Award, Dutch National Science Foundation
  • 1997 • Fellow, American Geophysical Union
  • 1997 • James B. Macelwane Medal, American Geophysical Union
  • 1996 • Doornbos Memorial Prize, International Association of Seismology and Physics of Earth’s Interior

Key Publications

  • Yu, C.-Q., Goes, S., Day, E.A., Van der Hilst, R.D., Seismic evidence for global basalt accumulation in the mantle transition zoneScience Advances, v. 9,, 2023.

  • Beaucé, E., Van der Hilst, R.D., Campillo, M., Microseismic Constraints on the Mechanical State of the North Anatolian Fault Zone Thirteen Years after the 1999 M7.4 Izmit EarthquakeJournal of Geophysical Research, v. 127,, 2022.

  • Mao, S., Lecointre, A., Van der Hilst, R.D., Campillo, M., Space-time monitoring of groundwater fluctuations with passive seismic interferometry, Nature Communications, v. 13,, 2022.