Kathleen Burton

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

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


RELEASE: 00-34

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

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