McSween Receives 2013 Whipple Award

Harry Y. McSween Jr. received the 2013 Whipple Award at the 2013 AGU Fall Meeting, held 9–13 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of planetary science.


mcsween_harry-yThe Whipple Award is the highest honor given by the AGU Planetary Sciences section and is named for Fred Whipple, a famed space scientist most noted for his work on comets. This year, we have selected Harry “Hap” McSween Jr., Chancellor’s Professor and distinguished professor of science at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, as the 2013 Whipple Award winner.

Hap specializes in meteorites, particularly chondrites and Martian meteorites, and studies them to understand the formation of the solar system, in the process publishing more than 250 papers on the cosmochemistry, mineralogy, and petrology of meteorites and on planetary geology. Hap is preeminent among the world’s leading meteoriticists and is arguably the world’s leading expert on Martian igneous rock petrology/geochemistry and the composition of the Martian crust. He has served as an indispensable bridge builder, connecting the world of meteoritics with planetary spacecraft exploration and the disciplines of geochemistry and petrology with remote sensing.

Hap’s interest in meteorites started as a graduate student at Harvard, where he was John Wood’s first graduate student, receiving his Ph.D. in 1977. One of the “discoveries” for which he is justifiably well known is the proposal, made with fellow grad student Ed Stopler, that certain meteorites—the shergottites—actually came from Mars. This is now accepted canon. Hap subsequently worked on several Mars missions, including Pathfinder, the Exploration Rovers, Global Surveyor, and Odyssey, and on the Dawn mission to Vesta.

Hap’s record of service to our community is exemplary as well. He is a past president of the Meteoritical Society and is currently the president-elect of the Geological Society of America. He has served on dozens of influential NASA and National Research Council (NRC) advisory panels that have shaped our nation’s planetary exploration program, including leadership roles in the recent NRC Planetary Decadal Survey. He has authored or coauthored half a dozen books, both for academics and for the general public. Hap’s service to his discipline exemplifies the “selfless service” that AGU values as a model for its members.

So congratulations to Harry Younger McSween Jr. for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to planetary science.

—WILLIAM B. MCKINNON, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.


Not so long ago, our forebears in planetary science—people like Fred Whipple—could truthfully have stated, “Half of what we have been taught is wrong. Unfortunately, we don’t know which half.” That does not apply to us anymore, but it remains true that in studying the planets, we must use every scrap of available information, weaving disparate data sets into a tapestry that reveals how these bodies formed and evolved.

Much of my own work takes advantage of the fact that planets sometimes swap rocks, and these meteorites can provide ground truth for our planetary understanding. I am privileged to have been mentored in meteoritics by John Wood, a previous Whipple Award recipient. I have also enjoyed the heady experience of remotely analyzing rocks on the surfaces of other worlds, courtesy of NASA spacecraft and working with fellow planetary scientists like Steve Squyres, last year’s Whipple Award winner. I am especially indebted to my 50-odd former graduate students and postdocs, who have certainly taught me more planetary science than I taught them and always kept me invigorated.

I really had no expectation of receiving the Whipple Award, and I am humbled to be given this coveted stamp of approval from AGU’s Planetary Sciences section. I gratefully accept it as a representative of many colleagues who work in extraterrestrial petrology and cosmochemistry—a corner of planetary science, a cornerstone really, that plays a significant role in our discipline. Thank you for this honor.

—HARRY Y. MCSWEEN JR., Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee, Knoxville