Planetary scientist Francis Nimmo elected to National Academy of Sciences

Francis Nimmo

Francis Nimmo, professor of Earth and planetary sciences at UC Santa Cruz, has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences in recognition of his distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

Nimmo joins 11 other UCSC faculty who are members of the academy, one of the highest honors a U.S. scientist can receive.

Nimmo’s research focuses on how planets and their moons have evolved to their current states, and what explains the planetary diversity we see. He 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. His research on the internal processes that affect plume activity at the southern polar region of Enceladus, for example, suggested that shear heating is at the origin of the plumes and heat flux on this moon of Saturn.

Other moons of giant planets Nimmo has studied include Europa, Ganymede, Titan, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, and Triton. He has also investigated the internal structure of Psyche, the largest metallic asteroid in the solar system, concluding that volcanoes of liquid iron may have erupted on such bodies.

Nimmo has been part of several NASA spacecraft missions, including the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, which mapped the gravity field of the Moon; the Cassini mission, which carried out observations in the Saturn system; New Horizons, which flew past Pluto in 2015; and InSight, which is currently measuring quakes on Mars.

Nimmo has received many awards and honors in recognition of his work, including most recently the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2019 Harold Jeffreys Lectureship and the Europlanet Society’s 2018 Paolo Farinella Prize. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, followed by appointments at the University of Cambridge, University College London, and UCLA. He joined the UCSC faculty in 2005.