Planetary scientist Francis Nimmo awarded 2018 Farinella Prize

Francis Nimmo

Francis Nimmo was presented with the 2018 Farinella Prize by Maria Cristina De Sanctis at the European Planetary Science Congress in Berlin. (Photo by A. Postiglione/Europlanet)

Francis Nimmo, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, has been awarded the 2018 Paolo Farinella Prize from the Europlanet Society for his contributions to understanding of the internal structure and evolution of icy bodies in the solar system.

Nimmo was honored at an award ceremony on September 19 at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2018 in Berlin, Germany. The ceremony included a lecture by Nimmo on the satellite systems of giant planets.

The annual prize, established in 2010 to honor the memory of Italian scientist Paolo Farinella (1953‐2000), acknowledges an outstanding researcher not older than 47 years (the age of Farinella when he passed away) who has achieved important results in one of Farinella’s fields of work. Each year the prize focuses on a different research area. In 2018, it was devoted to the satellite systems of giant planets, their geology, geophysics, and orbital evolution.

Nimmo has made significant contributions to the understanding of the internal structure and evolution of icy bodies of the solar system and the resulting influence on their surface processes. He has investigated the internal processes that affect plume activity at Enceladus’ southern polar region, suggesting that shear heating is at the origin of the plumes and heat flux on this moon of Saturn. He has also studied other moons of giant planets, including Europa, Ganymede, Titan, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Triton, and others.

“Francis Nimmo has shown an excellent ability to combine geologic observations with geophysics and orbital dynamics to clarify the formation and evolution of icy satellites,” said David Lucchesi, a member of the organizing committee of the Farinella Prize. “His outstanding publication record contains over 180 peer-reviewed papers, and these have been very well received by the community as shown by the extraordinary number of citations. For these reasons, Professor Nimmo is well deserving the 2018 Farinella Prize.”

In his remarks before receiving the prize, Nimmo said, “I never had the privilege of meeting Paolo Farinella, but I know we shared a deep interest in the origin and dynamics of outer Solar System bodies, like Pluto and Triton. These bodies are interesting and complicated because their orbits affect their interiors, and their interiors affect their orbits. It is precisely this feature that leads my work: I make inferences about the interiors and evolution of solar system bodies using geological and geophysical techniques, and then try to draw dynamical conclusions. My approach is quite different from Professor Farinella’s and most of the previous recipients of the award, so I am even more proud of winning the prize.”

Nimmo earned his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from St John’s College, Cambridge University, UK. He has worked at the California Institute of Technology, University College London, and UCLA. He joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz in 2005.