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April 28, 2000

Kathleen Burton

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

Phone: 650/604-1731, 650/604-9000

kburton@mail.arc.nasa.gov


RELEASE: 00-34AR

NASA ASTROBIOLOGY INSTITUTE MEMBER GEORGE WETHERILL HONORED

Dr. George W. Wetherill, a member of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute and a research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., will receive the National Academy of Sciences’ J. Lawrence Smith medal on May 1, 2000.

The award, which is presented every three years for "recent original and meritorious investigations" of meteorites, is being given to Wetherill for his contributions to radiometric dating of events in the history of the Earth and meteorites, and understanding the formation and orbital dynamics of bodies in the solar system.

"We are extremely pleased and honored that our colleague and collaborator at the Institute received this important award," said NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI) Director Dr. Baruch Blumberg, a 1976 Nobel Laureate.

The Carnegie Institution is one of 11 members of the NAI. Formed in 1997 to foster development of a community of astrobiologists based on peer-reviewed investigator-initiated research and to stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration using information technology tools, the NAI is located at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. Ames, situated in California’s Silicon Valley, is NASA’s Center of Excellence for Astrobiology, the study of the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe.

While working at the Carnegie Institution during the 1950s, Wetherill was a member of a small group of scientists who made major advancements in techniques that permitted determination of the ages of ordinary igneous and metamorphic rocks. Later at UCLA, he applied these techniques to show that all the major classes of the most common type of meteorite had the same age as the Earth -- 4,500 million years.

In 1975, Wetherill returned to the Carnegie Institution of Washington as director of the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. There he continued successful theoretical studies of the orbital evolution of asteroids and meteorites and started investigations of the formation and evolution of our solar system.

The results of these theoretical approaches included, among other things, the likely location of "habitable zones" in other planetary systems, and the important role that Jupiter may have played in the development of advanced life on Earth. The gas giant's gravitational field could protect Earth from being bombarded by a great number of very large comets.

Established by Sarah Julia Smith in memory of her husband, J. Lawrence Smith, the National Academy of Science’s medal has been presented since 1988.

The Carnegie Institution of Washington is a private nonprofit organization with five research departments: Terrestrial Magnetism, Plant Biology, Observatories, Embryology and the Geophysical Laboratory.

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