Neish Receives 2014 Ronald Greeley Early Career Award in Planetary Science

Catherine Neish received the 2014 Ronald Greeley Early Career Award in Planetary Science at the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, held 15–19 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes significant early career contributions to planetary science.

Neish_Catherine-Ronald_Greeley_Early_Career_Award_SIZEDThe Greeley Early Career Award is named for pioneering planetary scientist Ronald Greeley. During his lifetime, Ron was involved in nearly every major planetary mission and was extraordinarily active in service to the community. Ron’s greatest legacies, however, are those he mentored, and it is young scientists whose work and promise we seek to recognize. This year’s Greeley award winner is Catherine Neish, an assistant professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. Catherine received her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2008 and, after a postdoctoral stint at NASA Goddard, joined the faculty at Melbourne in the Department of Physics and Space Sciences.

Catherine specializes in planetary surface properties, and she is ecumenical in choice of target, having written papers that incorporate data from eight different planetary bodies: Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, Europa, Ganymede, Titan, and Triton. This certainly embraces the spirit of the Greeley award, as Ron was someone who was interested in the whole of planetary science, not just a single planetary body.

Catherine is expert in the use of orbital radar observations and has used these with optical imaging and topography to thoroughly revise our understanding of impact melt flows. She has also proposed that craters at high latitudes and low elevations on Titan are not simply buried by later sediments but form flattish to begin with, in a manner similar to craters formed on Earth in soft, oceanic sediments.

But not all of Catherine’s work is remote sensing based. Her Ph.D. thesis had three doctor-fathers: Ralph Lorenz, Jonathan Lunine, and Mark Smith. Her papers with them on the astrobiological potential of Titan and the lab work that went into them are notable. The relative ease in which biological molecules such as amino acids can form in ammonia-infused “Titan primordial soup” suggests (as if we needed reminding) that life may be ubiquitous in the universe. One suspects such work will have long-lasting impact.

Congratulations to Catherine D. Neish, the 2014 recipient of the Ronald Greeley Early Career Award in Planetary Science.

—William B. McKinnon, Washington University, Saint Louis, Mo



I have always greatly admired the curiosity that Ron Greeley showed for all the many wonders of the solar system. I work in many diverse fields, and every time I start a new project, I see Ron’s influence there. His willingness to study new processes on a range of planetary objects makes him the type of planetary scientist that I endeavor to be. I hope to continue to follow in his footsteps as I progress in my career and am deeply honored to receive this award that bears his name.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who have supported me throughout my career. Science is not a solitary enterprise, and I have benefited greatly from the advice and wisdom of a great many people. Thanks to Ellen Howell and Mike Nolan for introducing me to planetary radar, a passion that has guided my career. Thanks to the entire community of graduate students, postdocs, and faculty at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory for fostering my curiosity for planetary science. I would especially like to thank the incoming class of 2004 for their friendship and Ralph Lorenz, Jonathan Lunine, Mark Smith, and Árpád Somogyi for guiding my Ph.D. research. Thanks also to my colleagues at the Applied Physics Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center for helping an inexperienced postdoc transform into a confident scientist. Finally, I would like to thank my parents for their unwavering support and my husband, Shawn, for constantly pushing me to be my best. I share this award with them.

—Catherine Neish, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne