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Donation Allows Pierazzo International Student Travel Awards To Be Permanently Funded

   Michelle F. Thomsen                                                                           Betty Pierazzo

PSI Senior Scientist Michelle F. Thomsen was recently awarded the 2019 Arctowski Medal by the National Academy of Sciences for her outstanding contributions to the study of solar physics and solar terrestrial relationships. She has contributed $40,000 of her prize money to the Planetary Science Institute's Pierazzo Memorial Fund in support of the Pierazzo International Student Travel Awards, which will allow PSI to continue these awards indefinitely into the future.

The Pierazzo International Student Travel Award was established by the Planetary Science Institute in memory of Senior Scientist Betty Pierazzo to support and encourage graduate students to build international collaborations and relationships in planetary science. Two awards of $2,000 are made each year, contingent upon there being meritorious applications. One is awarded to a graduate student working on his or her Ph.D. at an institution within the U.S. to support travel to a planetary science related meeting outside of the U.S. The second award is for a graduate student working on his or her Ph.D. at an institution outside of the U.S. to support travel to a planetary science-related meeting within the U.S. 2019 is the sixth year of the awards.

Betty Pierazzo was an expert in the area of impact modeling throughout the Solar System, as well as an expert on the astrobiological and environmental effects of impacts on Earth and Mars. In addition to her research, she was passionate about education, teaching and public outreach, developing planetary-related classroom materials and professional development workshops for teachers, and teaching college-level classes herself. Betty believed in the strength of broad collaborations in all of her research and education activities. This award memorializes the scope of how she lived her life and the good she sought to bring to our profession and communities.

“The Pierazzo fund is just one example of the many ways PSI enables today's research and tomorrow's as well.  I am happy to be able to use my good fortune to help young people attend scientific conferences in another country,” Thomsen said. “At any stage of a career, such meetings are important for getting a quick synopsis of current research, but for younger scientists they are also very valuable for getting face time, meeting colleagues, and initiating collaborations.”

"Solar system exploration is an international enterprise. These awards are important for creating an opportunity for planetary scientists, early in their careers, to make international connections that will benefit them throughout their careers," said Mark Sykes, PSI’s CEO and Director. "Michelle's generous gift will allow continuing generations of young planetary scientists to benefit from this program."

For more about Betty Pierazzo, go to

To learn more about the Pierazzo International Student Travel Awards, awardees, and the application process, go to

April 28, 2019
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