Jeff Cuzzi Wins Kuiper Prize

Jeff Cuzzi
Jeff Cuzzi

Dr. Jeff Cuzzi of the Planetary Systems Branch (Code SST) has been named the winner of the 2010 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize, the most prestigious individual award in planetary sciences. The Kuiper Prize is administered by the American Astronomical Society’s Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS). The annual award honors outstanding lifetime contributions to planetary sciences, regardless of nationality, age, or DPS membership. Previous winners include Carl Sagan, Eugene Shoemaker and James van Allen. In the 27-year history of the Kuiper Prize, the award has been won by three NASA Ames researchers: Jim Pollack (1989), Dale Cruikshank (2006), and Jeff Cuzzi (2010). No institution — within government or academia — has more Kuiper Prize winners.

Jeff has been selected for this honor because of his many pioneering contributions to our understanding of the formation and evolution of planetary rings and planetessimals. Jeff’s work spans four decades from his early observational and theoretical work on rings, through his participation in NASA’s Voyager and Cassini missions, to his most recent state-or-the art fluid dynamical modeling efforts that put us on the cusp of uncovering the mysteries of how planets form. This long search has required that Jeff master several disciplines including (but not limited to) radiative transfer, nebular dynamics, and cosmochemistry, and often crossed into other fields of research such as astrophysics and meteoritics. It is notable that along the way Jeff has become an expert observational astronomer, planetary theoretician, and planetary modeler a rare combination indeed.

Dr. Jeffrey N. Cuzzi learned planetary science at Caltech (PhD, 1972) after receiving a BS in Engineering Physics from Cornell. Trained as a radio astronomer, with an initial focus on thermal emission from Mars and Mercury, he observed Saturn with the NRAO interferometer in 1975, coincidentally with the exciting discovery of radar backscattering from the rings. He became increasingly drawn to learn about all aspects of Saturn’s mysterious rings, and ultimately rings around other planets as well. During his early years at Ames, Jeff was study scientist for the first engineering studies of a Titan entry probe, and also worked on the first ultra-narrowband SETI search using Mark I VLBI technology. He was invited to join the Voyager Imaging team in 1978, and led the team’s rings subgroup through planning of all Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune ring encounter observations. In 1989, he was selected as Interdisciplinary Scientist for Rings on the NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens mission. His current ring focus is on the composition of the rings and its evolution with time, and the possibly chaotic dynamics of the F ring region.

He received the AIAA’s Lawrence Sperry Award, and two NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement medals for his work on planetary rings. In the early 1990s, Jeff began to study how fluid dynamics and turbulence in the early protoplanetary nebula might have played a role in accumulating the very first sizeable objects, such as those Earth was made from. The properties of these are reflected in the centuries-old puzzle of the primitive meteorite record. In a number of studies, he and his collaborators have focused on the special role of “chondrule”-size (sub-millimeter) particles that dominate primitive meteorites. Using 3D turbulence models on NASA’s largest computers, they have shown how a series of stages might lead from individual particles floating in the nebula, through very dense but strength-less clumps of them, to sandpile precursors of the asteroids we see today. Jeff received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement medal again for this work on early nebula processes, was elected Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2002, and has now been awarded the Gerard P. Kuiper prize of the AAS/DPS in 2010. He served as Chief of the Planetary Systems Branch of Ames’ Space Science & Astrobiology Division from 1992-1996.