The 2020 Jean Dominique Cassini Medal & Honorary Membership is awarded to Pascale Ehrenfreund for her leadership in international space exploration and breadth of science leading her to co-found the field of astrobiology.
Pascale Ehrenfreund is a talented, original and brilliant scientist whose very broad background in biology, astrochemistry and astrophysics, coupled with the ability to rapidly understand the wider, more far-reaching aspects of science, has enabled her to create new research fields as well as reach the highest levels of global space policy and leadership.
Ehrenfreund is among the founders of the field of astrobiology. Trained in biology and genetics, she completed her PhD in astrophysics at the University Paris VII and University of Vienna in 1990. Teh following year she obtained a habilitation in astrochemistry, with a collection of works entitled “cosmic dust”. Ehrenfreund has taught astrobiology as professor at the universities of Amsterdam and Leiden, was a distinguished visiting scientist at JPL, and a research professor at George Washington University. She has published more than 200 publications, which have been cited more than 13,000 times. She leads a research group conducting world-class research on organic molecules in the interstellar medium and in small bodies of our solar system.
Ehrenfreund has served in a number of space projects, including science team membership on Smart- 1, Exomars and Rosetta; interface scientist position for the Aerosol Collector Pyrolyser onboard Cassini-Huygens (enabling Austrian contribution, her scientific work on laboratory studies of Titan tholins was co-authored by C. Sagan); principal investigator for BIOPAN V and ISS EXPOSE-R experiments; and NASA project scientist position for the O/OREOS satellite. She was also among the initial proposers of the ExoMars rover mission and played a key role in the selection of its initial payload.
In parallel to her research activities, Ehrenfreund enrolled in management and international leadership, serving as President of the Austrian Science Foundation since 2013 and as Chair of German Aerospace Center DLR since 2015, where she is responsible for 8,000 staff members. The Cassini Medal is awarded to “scientists who have achieved exceptional international standing in planetary and space sciences … for their merit and their scientific achievements”. Pascale Ehrenfreunde is the epitome of these criteria. Throughout her career, she has always demonstrated and supported planetary and space sciences; few other scientists have contributed so profoundly to the development of the field of astrobiology.