Simon C. Brassell

Simon C. Brassell

Professor, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences


  • Ph.D., Organic Geochemistry, University of Bristol, U.K., 1980
  • B.Sc., Chemistry and Geology, University of Bristol, U.K., 1976

About Simon C. Brassell

Determination, assessment, and interpretation of molecular and isotopic characteristics of organic matter to identify biogeochemical processes associated with carbon cycling in modern and ancient natural systems.

Activities focused on the exploration and application of biomarkers and their isotopic signatures as environmental, paleoclimatic, stratigraphic and geochemical tools to better understand:

  • Environmental and climatic signals recorded in the temporal and spatial variations of the molecular and isotopic characteristics of sedimentary organic matter.
  • The capacity of molecular and isotopic signals to reflect controls on primary production and factors that affect the survival of organic matter in sediments, particularly microbial processes.
  • The evolutionary progression of life through time, especially biosynthetic responses preserved in the biogeochemical carbon cycle that are related to global perturbations of the ocean and atmosphere.
  • Depositional controls on the formation of petroleum source rocks and influences on the generation, composition, and biodegradation of petroleums, and the fate of hydrocarbons in the environment.

Courses taught

Undergraduate classes

G131: “Oceans and Our Global Environment.” An introductory course for non-science majors incorporating on–line web–based exercises in an interdisciplinary exploration of controls on oceanographic processes with an emphasis on the climatic and environmental importance of Earth’s oceans.

C105: “Records of Global Climate Change.” An introductory science course that examines evidence for climate change in Earth’s past, explores the present-day climate trends, and assesses predictions of future change and its consequences for society and the environment.

G302: “Development of the Global Environment.” An exploration of Earth history focused on its development, its atmosphere, oceans and continents, the evolution of life, catastrophic events and climate change.

Graduate classes in aspects of biogeochemistry, supplemented by training in analytical techniques and seminars in topical areas of interdisciplinary research

G587: “Organic Geochemistry.” A comprehensive exploration of measurement and applications of molecular and isotopic characteristics of organic matter focused on principles and processes, coupled with topical readings from recent literature.

Graduate seminars in aspects of biogeochemistry

G690: “Organic Geochemical Stratigraphy.” Examination of temporal changes in biogeochemical records and the causes of their variability through exploration and evaluation of records from marine and lacustrine settings, and from modern and ancient systems.

G690: “Petroleum Geochemistry” Examination of the chemistry of petroleum, with a focus on the origins and fate of molecular constituents, especially controls on their occurrence and abundance and assessment of their applications in petroleum geoscience.

G690: "Paleoclimatology" Exploration of the principles and application of tools used to measure, assess, interpret, and explain patterns and processes of climate change throughout Earth history.

Recent research projects

Projects representative of opportunities for research, including collaborative activities, which are, or have been, supported by NSF, JOI/USSSP and other funding agencies:

  • Evolution of temperature controls on alkenone biosynthesis: did variations in alkenone unsaturation, the basis for the paleotemperature proxy, developed in calcareous nannoplankton as a biological response to global cooling during the Paleogene?
  • Cretaceous biogeochemistry examining stratigraphic variations in molecular and isotopic characteristics of organic matter to explore depositional conditions and biotic responses during oceanic anoxic events.
  • Molecular diversity in the sedimentary record: an assessment of compositional variations in biomarkers as a measure of biocomplexity through geological time.

Other current and exploratory projects include several collaborative ventures with colleagues at Indiana University, Lisa Pratt, Arndt Schimmelmann, and Peter Sauer, and their students and post-docs.

Awards & Honors

  • Royal Society University Research Fellowship
  • David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science & Engineering
  • Fellow, Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, Delmenhorst, Germany
  • Best Paper Award for 2006 from the Organic Geochemistry Division, Geochemical Society.
  • Teaching Excellence Recognition Awards and Trustees Teaching Awards


Roles on major committees within the Department and University, and aspects of professional service:

  • Department: Current Standing Committee: Graduate Studies; Previously Department Chair (2007-11), Director of Graduate Studies (1996-2003), and Member of Policy (5-time) and Faculty Search (9-time) Committees.
  • University: Former Member of Bloomington Faculty Council (2003-5), College Policy Committee (2006-7), IU Bloomington General Education Committee (2006-8), Advisory Council and Steering Committee for SOTL (Scholarship of Teaching & Learning; 2003-10), and Search Committees for Deans/Directors (4-time).
  • Professional: Former Review panelist for NSF, NASA programs; Previously Associate Editor for Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta and Organic Geochemistry. Former member, Council of the European Association of Organic Geochemists.