Perron Receives 2011 Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award


perron_taylorWe are pleased to honor J. Taylor Perron with the Luna B. Leopold Young Scientist Award. Taylor has provided important contributions in an impressive range of topics, from the role of life in controlling Earth’s topography to fluvial erosion on Titan and polar wander on Mars.

His work is unusually thoughtful and elegantly presented. It contains lessons for us all on how to do exemplary science.

An important aspect of his work is the utilization of sophisticated spectral methods to examine the emergence of regular spacing in geologically simple terrains, revealing fundamental lessons about the physics of Earth surface processes. The signal insight lies in the appeal to a geologically uniform substrate to reveal the theoretically expected regularity of basic erosional processes.

While undertaking his Ph.D. work at the University of California, Berkeley, Taylor also coauthored “The search for a topographic signature of life” in Nature with Bill Dietrich, which is now widely held as a cornerstone paper in the emerging area of ecogeomorpholgy.

He has, with various colleagues, contributed important work on remote sensing of landslides, on valley formation in several contexts, on hillslope development, and on analytical methods for surface Earth science. His expertise in remote sensing has most prominently been demonstrated in his work on the analysis of processes on Mars and on Titan and on planetary geophysics.

The superior quality of Taylor’s work is marked by the number of awards he already has gathered, including the Daly Fellowship, membership to the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and a Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Chair. It is also signaled by his immediate success in gaining support from the U.S. National Science Foundation for his research.

Alan D. Howard, University of Virginia, Charlottesville


Thank you. When I was a beginning graduate student, Bill Dietrich encouraged us to visit Luna Leopold at his home in the Berkeley Hills. Luna listened patiently while I explained the model I was developing, nodded politely, and said, “Very nice, very nice.” And then, leaning forward he said, “Now tell me this: What can you measure?” He was right, of course: The best problems often arise from a compelling observation that can eventually be compared with theory.

From that perspective, we who study surface processes are fortunate, partly because our data set—the surface itself—is eminently accessible but also because our ability to measure planetary surfaces is rapidly expanding. Laser surveys are producing topographic maps with unprecedented resolution at a quickening pace. We have maps of asteroids, images of river networks on an icy moon, hydrologic fluxes from gravity, and long-term erosion rates. We are acquiring the information to answer questions that have dangled since long before I contemplated a scientific career and to pose new questions about patterns that were previously unknown. It is a wonderful time to ask, What can you measure?

Yet many landscapes remain unexplored. The river networks on Titan are poorly resolved. Our knowledge of submarine landforms is spotty. And we have few windows onto landscapes from the geologic past.

I look forward to confronting these challenges and others alongside all of you. Of the many brilliant and generous colleagues I have encountered, I must single out a few to thank for their guidance and inspiration: Alan Howard, whose footprints encircle many good problems; my graduate advisors, Jim Kirchner and Bill Dietrich; my geophysics tutors, Jerry Mitrovica and Michael Manga; and Mike Lamb, Josh Roering, Jeremy Venditti, and Peter Huybers. And to all who contributed to this nomination: Thank you.


J. Taylor Perron, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge