Francis Nimmo receives Urey Prize in Planetary Science

Francis Nimmo

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society will award the 2007 Harold C. Urey Prize in Planetary Science this week to Francis Nimmo, associate professor of Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Nimmo will accept the prize and give an invited lecture on Tuesday, October 9, at a meeting of the division in Orlando, Florida.

The Urey Prize recognizes and encourages outstanding achievements in planetary sciences by scientists age 37 or younger. In announcing the award, the Division for Planetary Sciences praised Nimmo for contributions that have "strongly influenced current thinking about our solar system from Mercury to Neptune."

Nimmo is interested in understanding the structure and evolution of planets and moons. He studies the forces that shape planet surfaces as well as conditions deep inside them, starting with satellite observations and exploring them further with geophysical models. Among his more than 45 scientific publications, he has addressed heat flow on Mercury, plate tectonics on Venus, magma and crust on Mars, and magnetism in the Earth's core. He has also published findings on the outer solar system, including Jupiter's icy moons Europa and Ganymede. His first publication, in 1993, reported new plesiosaur remains from Scotland.

In recent work, Nimmo and his collaborators have made significant contributions to scientific understanding of Saturn's moon Enceladus (see press release). He is a member of the NASA Enceladus Science Definition Team and the Committee on Lunar and Planetary Exploration of the National Academy of Sciences.

Earlier this year, Nimmo also won the American Geophysical Union's Macelwane Medal, another honor bestowed on young scientists who demonstrate great talent and productivity.

"Both awards are very competitive and very prestigious," said Gary Glatzmaier, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UCSC. "Winning both clearly means that Francis is currently the top young planetary scientist in the world."

In awarding the Urey Prize to Nimmo, the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society released the following commendation:

"The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society awards the 2007 Harold C. Urey Prize for outstanding achievement in planetary research by a young scientist to Francis Nimmo, assistant professor of Earth sciences at UC Santa Cruz. A theoretical planetary geophysicist of exceptionally broad interests, Francis has made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the evolution of both terrestrial planets and icy satellites, using their observed surface topography and composition to investigate the evolution of forces responsible for their current states. His creative and provocative body of work has spanned the solar system, from estimates of the crustal thickness of Mercury, the surface and interior dynamics of Venus, and the evolution of the Martian crust to the interpretation of Triton's surface ridges as formed by diurnal tidal stresses. His work incorporates estimates of core and mantle convection, tidal and radiogenic heating, crustal extension and compression, impacts, volcanism, and fluvial erosion. Francis has the skill of defining important problems, devising clever ways to solve them, and developing successful collaborations. He writes with exceptional clarity, thoroughness, and open-mindedness to the idea that even the most beautiful theory is only as strong as its observational support. As a young planetary scientist whose work has strongly influenced current thinking about our Solar System from Mercury to Neptune, the Division for Planetary Sciences is pleased to award the 2007 Harold C. Urey Prize to Francis Nimmo."

Nimmo earned his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees at Cambridge University. He was an assistant professor at UCLA and conducted postdoctoral research at University College London, the California Institute of Technology, and Cambridge. He joined the UCSC faculty in 2005.

Note to reporters: You may contact Nimmo at (831) 459-1783 or