Veverka Receives 2011 Whipple Award

Joseph Veverka received the 2011 Whipple Award at the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting, held 5–9 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of planetary science.


veverka_JThe Whipple Award is the highest honor given by the AGU Planetary Sciences section. The award is named for Fred Whipple, a gifted space scientist most noted for his work on understanding comets.

We have selected Joe Veverka, the James A. Weeks Professor of Physical Sciences and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y., as this year’s Whipple Award winner. This selection is especially appropriate, not only because many of Joe’s major contributions to our field have been in the small body arena but also because Joe was Fred Whipple’s last graduate student!

Joe has been a pioneer in the use of photometry and the development of photometric phase functions from telescopes and spacecraft to characterize the nature and physical properties of planetary surfaces, focusing especially on small bodies. He led, along with his many students and postdocs, important studies that enabled albedo determinations on asteroids, comets, planets, and satellites and thus the direct comparison of their surface properties to laboratory data sets.

Joe has been involved as a key coinvestigator, team leader, or principal investigator on a remarkable number of robotic space exploration missions, including Mariner 9, Viking, Voyager, Mars Observer, Galileo, Mars Global Surveyor, Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), Cassini, Comet Nucleus Tour (­CONTOUR), Deep Impact, and Stardust-​NExT.

Joe has also performed important service work for our community, including serving as an editor at Icarus, chair of numerous NASA working groups, chair of the Committee for Planetary Exploration (­COMPLEX), and, most recently, as chair of the National Research Council’s Planetary Science Decadal Survey’s Small Bodies Panel. Beyond these academic and community service achievements, Joe has been an outstanding teacher, advisor, and mentor to many of the leaders in our field.

Joe’s service to his discipline exemplifies the “selfless service” that AGU values as a model for its members, and his scientific contributions are great. He is qualified in every respect to receive the Fred Whipple Award.

Laurie Leshin, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N. Y.


Thank you, Laurie.

I am honored and delighted to receive this award because of the recognition it represents on the part of my friends and colleagues in the Planetary Sciences section of AGU, and also because the award is named after Fred Whipple, my thesis advisor at Harvard. Fred was a most remarkable individual, who, in his work, combined keen intellectual curiosity, unusual scientific skill, and a lot of common sense. One of the things that I learned very early from Fred is that no amount of erudition is a substitute for practical common sense.

We are fortunate to be living at a time when planets, asteroids, and comets are no longer mere points of light in the night sky but are bodies to which we can send our spacecraft and instruments to study individual objects in detail. As scientists, we are also fortunate to have supporting us large groups of engineers and technicians whose dedicated efforts make these endeavors successful. Exploring our solar system has been and will continue to be a great adventure. With ongoing missions such as European Space Agency’s Rosetta and NASA’s New Horizons, Dawn, and Osiris Rex, our understanding of the building blocks of our solar system, the comets, asteroids, and related objects will continue to grow dramatically.

In conclusion, allow me once again to express my sincere thanks to you, my colleagues, for this award and to the memory of Fred Whipple, who got me started in planetary science. And would it be inappropriate for all of us to thank the universe for providing us with a solar system so full of fascinating planets, satellites, asteroids, and comets for us to study, explore, and learn to understand?

Joseph Veverka, Cornell University, Ithaca, N. Y.