Sean C. Solomon (BS ’66) Awarded National Medal of Science


Geophysicist Sean C. Solomon (BS ’66) was named a recipient of the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama on Friday. 

A recipient of Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award (2006), Solomon is the director of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and principal investigator of NASA’s mission to Mercury.

“These scholars and innovators have expanded our understanding of the world, made invaluable contributions to their fields, and helped improve countless lives,” President Obama said in a statement. “Our nation has been enriched by their achievements, and by all the scientists and technologists across America dedicated to discovery, inquiry, and invention.”

In a career spanning four decades, Solomon has served on numerous projects exploring Earth and Earth-like planets in the solar system, including the Magellan mission to Venus, the Mars Global Surveyor mission, the GRAIL mission to the moon, and a number of ocean-bottom seismological explorations.

“The four inner planets of our solar system are nature’s experiments in how a planet like Earth became the planet it is today, and they had four extraordinarily different outcomes,” Solomon said in an interview with Columbia University in 2013. “To understand our own planet, we must understand how all Earth-like planets formed and evolved.”

Prior to Lamont-Doherty, Solomon served for nearly two decades as director of the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D.C. When he departed in 2011, colleagues arranged to have a previously discovered asteroid named after him: asteroid 25137 Seansolomon, which orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter.

"Sean Solomon is a pioneer in both Earth and Planetary Sciences, and a world leader in the discipline of geophysics," said John Grotzinger, chair of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences (GPS) and Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology at Caltech. "Being awarded the National Medal of Science is a celebration of his extraordinary career, which has been rich with exploration, extending from the structure of the Earth, to the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. We are very proud of our alumnus from Caltech’s Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences."

Solomon is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received numerous other awards, among them the Geological Society of America’s G.K. Gilbert Award and the American Geophysical Union’s Harry H. Hess Medal. 

The National Medal of Science was created in 1959 and is administered by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the medal honors individuals who have done work of outstanding merit or have had a major impact in the fields  of science and engineering. A committee of presidential appointees recommends medal candidates to the president based on their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, and the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences. 

The new awardees will receive their medals at a White House ceremony later this year.

More from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

Q&A: Sean Solomon on Lamont-Doherty, Earth Science and Space
Columbia Record, Oct. 30, 2013

A Breadth of Expertise, A Pioneering Spirit, Sept 14, 2012