2020 Nemmers Earth Sciences Prize Recipient

Katherine Freeman

2020 Nemmers Prize in Earth Sciences Recipient

Katherine Freeman

Pennsylvania State University

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.

Katherine H. Freeman is an Evan Pugh University Professor in the Departments of Geosciences and Chemistry at The Pennsylvania State University. Professor Freeman earned a B.A. from Wellesley College, and an M.S. and Ph.D. 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.

Professor Freeman studies organic molecules from ancient organisms, and she has developed ways to analyze their carbon stable isotope abundances. She uses these signatures to explore interactions of Earth’s carbon cycle and climate with past oceans, plants, and microbes. She has worked on times of environmental upheaval, particularly during the last 65 million years, although her studies have crisscrossed the geologic timescale. She has partnered with archeologists to study climate and habitats of early human ancestors and the diets of early farmers. Recently, she has turned her interests toward astrobiology and is investigating life signatures encoded as isotope patterns within organic molecules on Earth and, potentially, other planetary habitats.

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. Her teaching and research contributions have been recognized by numerous awards, including the Treibs medal from the Geochemical Society. Professor 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.