Katherine de Kleer, assistant professor of planetary science and astronomy, has been named a 2024 Cottrell Scholar by the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA).
The Cottrell Scholar Awards have been awarded by RCSA since 1994 and recognize early-career individuals for innovative research and teaching excellence. The awards are named after Frederick Gardner Cottrell, an inventor and philanthropist who founded the RCSA in 1912.
"I'm honored to be joining the Cottrell Scholar community," de Kleer says. "I'm grateful for the opportunity the award provides to study an intriguing phase of our Solar System's history, and I am excited about further engaging a broad community of students in astronomy through hands-on experience with telescopes and astronomical data."
As a planetary astronomer, de Kleer studies the evolution of solar system bodies, including moons, planets, and asteroids, by observing their surfaces and atmospheres at optical, infrared, and radio wavelengths. Utilizing this wide swath of frequencies helps researchers to understand of the seasonal evolution of planetary atmospheres; to characterize and map the volcanic activity on Io, Jupiter's third-largest moon (also the most volcanically active spot in the solar system); and investigate asteroids that were once nascent planets.
With the Cottrell Scholar Award, de Kleer plans to investigate the asteroid belt to study the early chemical changes that occurred within the building blocks of our solar system's planets due to intense heating. Ancient collisions between these objects have resulted in some portions of their cores and mantles now being exposed to space, allowing researchers to study these fragments in precise detail.
De Kleer and her group study the fragments by observing their thermal emission with arrays of radio telescopes on Earth. Additionally, the project will support the expansion of a course introducing undergraduate and graduate students across disciplines to astronomy in a project-based way that empowers them with practical tools that can serve as a basis for astronomy as a career or as a lifelong extracurricular pursuit.
De Kleer also holds the Hufstedler Family Early-Career Professorship for Planetary Exploration. She received bachelor's degrees in mathematics and physics from MIT in 2009 and her PhD in astrophysics from UC Berkeley in 2017. De Kleer was a Heising-Simons Foundation 51 Pegasi b Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech from 2017 to 2019 before joining the Caltech faculty in 2019.