Geology & Geophysics AGU News

Soderblom Receives 2014 Whipple Award

Laurence A. Soderblom received the 2014 Whipple Award at the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, held 15–19 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of planetary science.



Laurence A. Soderblom
Laurence A. Soderblom

The Whipple Award is the highest honor given by the American Geophysical Union Planetary Sciences section and is named for Fred Whipple, a famed space scientist and the preeminent cometary scientist of the mid-20th century. This year’s Whipple Award goes to Larry Soderblom of the U.S. Geological Survey Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff.

Larry is the consummate planetary scientist. A geophysicist by training and a geologist by inclination, his work is of extraordinary breadth. Over a more than 4-decade career in planetary science, he has participated in more than a dozen planetary missions ranging spatially from Venus out to Neptune and all the planets (and several minor bodies) in between. Scientifically, he is a generalist, but more precisely, he is better thought of as a specialist in dozens of subfields. His work is rigorous, quantitative, mindful of complexities yet always strives to maximize the science.

Notably, only in his thirties, Larry was deputy Imaging Team leader for the Voyager mission, overseeing that first scientific exploration of the satellites of the outer solar system; today, he is interdisciplinary scientist for satellites for Cassini-Huygens. And there is a direct connection to Fred Whipple’s work: Larry led the development of the camera/spectrometer for the experimental Deep Space 1 mission. The images returned of comet Borrelly were our first clues to the geologic complexity of comets now gloriously revealed by Rosetta.

Larry’s exceptional abilities have made him a target for leadership positions, and he has done extraordinary service for the community. He served twice as branch chief in Flagstaff and chaired expertly and effectively various working groups, subcommittees, and committees for NASA. And most recently, he was vice-chair of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey for the National Academy.

Finally, Larry is exceptional for his humanity and his willingness to mentor younger scientists. Larry is a model of unselfish cooperation in research, indeed, an exemplar of wisdom and humor in the midst of scientific discovery and its inevitable controversies.

Congratulations to Laurence A. Soderblom for a lifetime of outstanding contributions to planetary science.

—William B. McKinnon, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo.


I am most grateful to all of my scientific friends and colleagues, to be recognized with this year’s Whipple Award. Through my career I have been so fortunate to participate in an eye-opening journey of exploration across our solar system—a journey that began for me in the late 1960s. I am deeply indebted to my two Ph.D. thesis advisers, Bruce Murray and Gene Shoemaker, for encouraging me and for setting me onto this mind-bending path. I have been truly privileged to participate in the first stage of exploration of the outer solar system and witness firsthand the explosion in our understanding of planets and planetary processes, as it has so rapidly unfolded.

When the Voyager missions were started, our vision of what lay ahead in our adventure to explore the outer planets and satellites of our solar system was primitive and unimaginative. Most expected the moons of the giant planets to be battered, lifeless, and geologically dead. But over the last 45 years, our view of these worlds has exploded with a panoply of unimaginably beautiful and complex activity. Plumes, geysers, molten calderas, rain, rivers, lakes, and seas popped up from Mars to comets to Io to Enceladus to Titan to Triton. What lessons can we take from these active places into the next phase of exploration? When the Voyagers were launched, our naiveté allowed that only planet Earth was dynamically active. But exploring our solar system, our cosmic backyard, has awed us with unforeseen complexity, scientific beauty, and rich activity. We are now far better poised for our nascent exploration of the worlds beyond that backyard.

—Laurence A. Soderblom, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Ariz.

Citation: AGU (2015), Soderblom receives 2014 Whipple Award, Eos, 96, doi:10.1029/2015EO027571. Published on 10 April 2015.

© 2015. The authors. CC BY-NC 3.0