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Undergraduate Speaker – Carolyn Porco, Ph.D.

Carolyn Porco, Ph.D.

Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa

Carolyn PorcoCarolyn Porco is a planetary scientist who served as the leader of the imaging science team on the Cassini mission to Saturn from 2004 to 2017 and as the imaging scientist on the celebrated Voyager mission to the outer solar system in the 1980s. Asteroid Porco 7231 is named in her honor.

Porco received her doctorate degree in 1983 from the California Institute of Technology in the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences. In the fall of 1983, she joined the faculty in the department of Planetary Sciences within the University of Arizona. She was the director of CICLOPS, the center of imaging operations at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado, from 2003 to 2018. She is currently a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences.

She has co-authored 130 scientific papers in the planetary sciences, including a large suite of findings on Saturn and its rings and moons as a result of her leadership of the Cassini imaging experiment. Her team was responsible for discovering lakes and seas of hydrocarbons on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan; 100 geysers of water and organic materials erupting from its small moon, Enceladus; and new moons and rings of Saturn.

Porco has become a regular public commentator on science, planetary exploration, and the future of humanity, and she has appeared many times in media interviews and TV documentaries. Her popular science writings have been published in such distinguished publications as The Sunday Times (London), The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Astronomy magazine, Arizona Daily Star, Sky and Telescope, Scientific American, American Scientist, and the PBS and BBC websites.

A popular international public speaker, Porco has presented twice at the renowned TED Conference and opened the unusual, worldwide multimedia event known as Pangea Day on May 10, 2008, with a speech illustrating humanity’s cosmic place.

She was a co-originator along with Carl Sagan of the famed “Pale Blue Dot” picture of Earth from the Voyager spacecraft, and was responsible for the “Day the Earth Smiled” event on July 19, 2013, when another image of the Earth was taken with her cameras at Saturn, this time with the full advance knowledge of members of the public who were invited to take part in a day of reflection and celebration of humanity’s place in the cosmos.

In 1999, The Sunday Times selected Porco as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century. In 2008, Wired magazine chose her for its first list of “Fifteen People the Next President of the United States Should Listen To”, and she was chosen in 2009 as one of “50 People Who Matter Today” by New Statesman magazine. In 2012, she was named one the 25 most influential people in space by Time magazine. For her scientific accomplishments, she has been recognized with honorary doctorates of science from Stony Brook University and from Arizona State University.
Porco was invited by Sagan to be the consultant in creating Ellie Arroway, the main character in the Warner Bros. movie adaptation of Sagan’s novel, Contact, and she was the science advisor to the 2009 Paramount Pictures film Star Trek.

For her contributions to science and the public sphere, she was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal, presented by the American Astronomical Society for Excellence in the Communication of Science to the Public in 2010, and the inaugural Eliza Scidmore Award for Outstanding Science Media by the National Geographic Society in 2018.

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