Student Award Now Given in Honor of Carolyn Shoemaker
July 12, 2022
The late Dr. Carolyn S. Shoemaker had a brief, but extraordinary scientific career. In a twelve-year window, she discovered a world record 32 comets, including Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 that dramatically plunged into the atmosphere of Jupiter in 1994. She was preceded in death by her husband, Eugene Shoemaker, who led the Apollo 11 and 12 geology teams and helped craft the field of impact cratering science. When Gene died, Carolyn provided funds to the Geological Society of America (GSA) Foundation for an endowment that began supporting student research in 1999. The GSA Planetary Geology Division’s Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award has since sponsored the research of 22 students, including a few who are now professors and researchers in our community. As the outline of the award describes, Carolyn “established the endowment so that students will have an opportunity to pursue studies of impact craters, which was the focus of her husband’s graduate student studies and a large part of his professional career.” The award has a broad scope: it is for undergraduate and graduate students of any nationality, working in any country, in the disciplines of geology, geophysics, geochemistry, astronomy, or biology. The award is to be applied to the study of impact craters, whether they be on Earth or any other solid body in the solar system. The focus of the proposed work can be on the cratering process, the bodies (asteroidal or cometary) that make the impacts, or the geological, chemical, or biological results of impact cratering.
With Carolyn’s passing, LPI Principal Scientist and chair of the award committee, David Kring, proposed the name of the award be modified to reflect Carolyn’s tremendous contributions to the planetary science field. The scientific community had already recognized Carolyn’s accomplishments in several prestigious ways, both before and after the discovery of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. In 1985, Hildian asteroid 4446 Carolyn was named in her honor. In 1988, she and Gene received the Rittenhouse Medal from the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society. In 1996, she received an honorary doctorate degree from Northern Arizona University and NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal. In 1998, Carolyn and her husband were bestowed the James Craig Watson Medal by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. That joint award was particularly important because, as Carolyn later noted, “Together, we could do more than either of us alone.”
In the spirit of Carolyn’s comment, the Eugene M. Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award will now be known as the Eugene and Carolyn Shoemaker Impact Cratering Award.