UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Katherine Freeman, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences at Penn State, has been awarded the 2020 Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences. The prize is awarded by Northwestern University and recognizes achievement and work of lasting significance in the field of Earth sciences.
Freeman was selected “for her pioneering and continued contributions to development of the field of compound-specific stable isotope geochemistry and its application to fundamental problems in Earth science."
“I am honored and humbled to be selected for the Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences,” Freeman said. “I look forward to interacting with Northwestern faculty and students through virtual lectures and seminars this spring, and to visiting their campus in the not-so-distant future.”
The disciplinary-specific Nemmers Prizes are given every other year and carry some of the largest monetary stipends in their fields. One of five prizes, the Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences, which carries a $200,000 stipend, is made possible through bequests from the late Erwin P. Nemmers, a former faculty member in Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management from 1957 to 1986, and his brother, the late Frederic E. Nemmers, both of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Prizes also are awarded in medical science, economics, mathematics and music composition.
“Kate is a world-renowned scholar and teacher and is most deserving of this award,” said Lee Kump, John Leone Dean in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. “She is a proven leader in her field and serves as a role model for women pursuing careers in STEM fields.”
Freeman studies organic molecules from ancient organisms — such as algae, plants and microbes — and develops new methods to analyze their carbon stable isotope ratios. She then uses these signatures to better understand Earth’s ancient carbon cycle, climate, changing patterns of ecosystems, plant evolution and the elevation of ancient mountains. More recently, she began exploring astrobiology to investigate the signatures of life on Earth and, potentially, other planetary habitats.
Freeman’s teaching and research contributions have been recognized by numerous awards, including the Alfred Treibs Award from the Geochemical Society and the Cozzarelli Prize from the National Academy of Sciences.
Freeman is co-editor of the journal Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences and director of the Astrobiology Center for Isotopologue Research (ACIR), supported by NASA.
Freeman is an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the Geological Society of America, Geochemical Society, American Academy of Microbiology and the American Geophysical Union, and previously of the Guggenheim Foundation and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.
Freeman earned a bachelor of arts degree from Wellesley College, and a master of science and doctorate from Indiana University in geosciences, with concentrations in biogeochemistry and analytical chemistry. She was a postdoctoral scholar at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography before joining the Penn State faculty in 1991.