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Astronomer, Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii

Karen Meech is an astronomer/astrobiologist who investigates how habitable worlds form, exploring the bigger picture of whether there is life elsewhere. She uses the left-over pieces from our solar system’s formation to understand how habitable planets are made. She started her astronomical career investigating comets, the icy leftovers from the birth of our solar system. Her work led to an understanding of many of the processes that cause the beautiful tails to develop far from our Sun and was Co-Investigator on three comet missions: Deep Impact, EPOXI and Stardust-NExT. In addition to her science role on these missions she coordinated major ground and space-based observing campaigns in support of the missions. Her discoveries provide information to test our understanding of how planetary systems are assembled. Now her work has embraced the power of interdisciplinary science and she is combining geological field work, geochemistry, astronomical observations, theory and space mission concepts to address fundamental questions about how Earth got its water. This includes the development of a Discovery class mission to explore water in the main asteroid belt. More recently she has been leading teams observing and characterizing interstellar objects. She obtained her BA in Space Physics from Rice University and her Ph.D. in planetary physics from MIT. After MIT she obtained a faculty position at the University of Hawaii’s Institute for Astronomy, where she is an Astronomer, and the Graduate Chair. She’s won numerous awards including the Heaps Prize in Physics, the Annie Jump Cannon Award, the Harold C. Urey Prize (AAS/DPS), the William Tylor Olcott Distinguished Service Award of the AAVSO, the IfA Director’s Research Excellence Award, the UH Regent’s Medal for Research Excellence and ARCS Scientist of the year, in addition to two NASA Group Achievement Awards for work on the EPOXI and Stardust-NExT missions

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