Robert Downs

Photo of Robert Downs

Bob Downs is Professor of Mineralogy at the University of Arizona, in the Geosciences Department in the College of Science.  He is Director and Curator of the University Gem and Mineral Museum.  His fields of specialization are crystallography and spectroscopy of minerals, with emphasis on crystal chemistry, bonding, temperature and pressure effects, mineral characterization and identification. 

Bob received his BS degree in mathematics from the University of British Columbia, and his MS and PhD from the Virginia Tech, in Geological Sciences. He held a Post-doctoral position at the Carnegie Institution in Washington DC, and has held a number of academic positions since joining the UofA during sabbaticals, in the US and Japan. He joined the University of Arizona faculty in 1996, and in 2008 he became full professor and he concurrently took the position he now holds with the Gem and Mineral Museum.

Bob started collecting minerals at the age of 8, and this led him into his profession as an earth scientist. His pioneering work in the fields of mineral science, identification and characterization has led to numerous awards; the American Federation of Mineralogical Societies Scholarship, the International Union of Crystallography Young Scientist Award in 1992, the Leonard G. Berry Medal, The Mineralogical Association of Canada, 2002 Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America and elected as 2002 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, 2009. Under his guidance, the University of Arizona advancements in mineral science has gathered world-wide recognition for both the quality of research and the reference collection databases. Personally, Bob has authored or co-authored hundreds of scientific papers and book chapters, and has given invited talks all over the world. The mineral Bobdownsite has been named after him.

Bob’s current work includes examining and characterizing minerals whose origins are non-terrestrial, and even not found on the Earth, but on Mars. As a result of Bob’s work on developing compact but highly precise measuring techniques, Bob is an active and senior participant in the Mars Curiosity probe, analyzing the minerals and rocks found near the Martian Gale Crater, and its towering mountain, Mt. Sharp.  In this role, Bob has even piloted the Martian rover, a feat not shared by too many other scientists!

Bob is also highly focused on the move to the new Museum location at the Old Pima County Courthouse, which is expected to raise the level of earth science exhibits to a new high, and introduce earth science to a new generation of potential scientists, collectors and hobbyists. Bob is currently developing new miniaturized analytical tools for the lander for the next Mars probe Europa, scheduled to be launched sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Bob has been on the Museum Board since 2008.