The following news is adapted from a press release issued by the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society.
The American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) has awarded the 2019 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize for outstanding contributions to the field of planetary science to MIT Professor Maria Zuber for her advancements in geophysics, planetary gravity mapping, and laser altimetry. Zuber is the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) and vice president for research at MIT.
The Gerard P. Kuiper Prize honors scientists whose lifetime achievements have most advanced society’s understanding of the planetary system. Zuber’s numerous accomplishments include her seminal 2000 paper in Science combining Mars Global Surveyor laser altimetry data and gravity data to determine the crustal and upper mantle structure of Mars. Zuber became the first woman to lead a NASA spacecraft mission as principal investigator of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission. GRAIL constructed a model of the moon’s gravitational field to spherical harmonic degree 1800, which exceeded the baseline requirement of the mission by an order of magnitude. Zuber has turned her attention to many different solid bodies in the solar system, focusing on structure and tectonics, including Mercury, Venus, Eros, Vesta, and Ceres. Since 1990, she has held leadership roles associated with scientific experiments or instrumentation on nine NASA missions.
Zuber has been at the helm of MIT’s research endeavors, overseeing more than a dozen interdisciplinary research laboratories and centers, ensuring intellectual integrity, and fostering research relationships. Over the years, she has advised a number of students and postdocs, and one reports that she strikes the perfect balance of being demanding, supportive, encouraging, and open-minded.
As the recipient of the prize, Zuber will be invited to present a lecture at a DPS meeting and publish a written version of it in Icarus.