The National Academy of Sciences recognizes Sam Bowring and Sara Seager for pioneering careers dedicated to expansion of our scientific knowledge—from the familiar Earth to extrasolar ‘other earths.’
The election of Sam Bowring and Sara Seager to the National Academy of Sciences in April brings the tally of National Academicians from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences to an impressive even dozen.
For geologist Bowring, it comes atop publication of a series of journal articles pinpointing factors leading to the largest extinction event in Earth’s history—articles which broke through into the mass media and public consciousness, and which led to work with filmmaker Sarah Holt on the Smithsonian Channel film, “Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink,” putting the catastrophic effects of climate change in front of a wide audience.
Dedication to public outreach and teaching are hallmarks of his career. Bowring, the Robert R. Schrock Professor of Geology, joined the EAPS faculty in 1991 and was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2006—an MIT designation recognizing excellence in teaching. Among his many other professional distinctions, he is a recipient of the N.L. Bowen Award from the American Geophysical Union and was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.
A tireless field geologist, he has had students and postdocs working on projects worldwide. “His lab is known for burning the candle at both ends,” said Jahan Ramezani, an EAPS research scientist who has worked alongside Bowring for nearly 15 years. “He’s known as someone who pushed the envelope trying to improve his research, especially in the precision of isotopic age determination and being able to apply the method to new problems and new arenas of earth sciences.”
Among Bowring’s influential contributions to science is the discovery, dating, and interpretation of Earth’s oldest known rocks, leading to a greater understanding of how the crust of our planet formed—much earlier than previously believed. He also authored defining works on the geochronology of the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary and end-Permian mass extinction, and developed geochemical methods to analyze human inputs, such as acid rain, into the environment.
Astrophysicist and planetary scientist Seager’s tenacious dedication to her goal of finding “anotherEarth” within her lifetime has also captured the imagination of the public—which finds her delivering TED talks, testifying before the U.S. House Science Committee, and garnering recognition from publications like the 2006 Popular Science “Brilliant Ten,” 2008 Discover “Best 20 under 40,” 2011 Nature “Top Ten,” and the 2012 Time Magazine “25 Most Influential in Space.”
Of course, recognition for her work goes far beyond media attention; her many honors have included the 2012 Sackler Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2013. Seager joined the MIT faculty in 2007, and is the Class of 1941 Professor with a joint appointment in Physics and EAPS.
Seager’s seminal contributions to exoplanet research include laying the theoretical foundation for exoplanet atmospheres and interiors, developing both predictive tools and interpretive techniques that are now standard in the field. She discovered a unique solution to the equations that describe a transiting planet light curve, leading to numerous applications in verification of exoplanet candidates using space-based precision photometry. And she authored the defining textbook “Exoplanet Atmospheres” and edited the leading graduate-level book titled EXOPLANETS.
Her relentless pace includes work as co-Investigator of the MIT-led NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), and pioneering a fleet of tiny satellites (CubeSats) in collaboration with Draper Labs and the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab—with her NASA ASTERIA CubeSat mission launching in 2016—all to map out planetary systems around the nearest and brightest Sun-like stars.
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