Katherine H. Freeman

Katherine H. Freeman

Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Earth Science

Competition: US & Canada

Pennsylvania State University

Professor of Geosciences and faculty member at Penn State since 1991, Katherine H. Freeman is a leading scholar of organic compounds preserved in ancient soils, sediments, and oils. She developed methods for precise measurement of stable carbon isotopes in individual compounds and she was the first to apply such analytical tools to understand biological and environmental influences on isotope signatures of fossil molecules from ancient life. This technology has transformed the field of organic geochemistry, and it is widely used in energy research and in forensic studies related to drug testing, adulteration, and homeland security. Dr. Freeman’s current research is directed toward applying the rich information provided by life-derived molecules to the study of Earth history, with a focus on past climates. Her studies have included reconstructions of CO2 levels in the ancient atmosphere, molecular signatures of microbial, terrestrial, and marine ecosystems, and novel ways to study water cycling across ancient landscapes. The Guggenheim Fellowship will allow Dr. Freeman to study molecules from ancient plants and the linkages between carbon and water in hot, high-CO2 climates of the past.

Dr. Freeman has served as Associate Head of Graduate Programs and Research for the Department of Geosciences since 2004. Of her sixteen former Ph.D. students and postdocs, nine are now employed as university faculty, four are working in government agencies, and two in the private sector; she currently advises six Ph.D. students. She was previously director of a graduate program in biogeochemistry, and helped establish two interdisciplinary degrees at Penn State involving life sciences and geosciences. She has been honored for educating students at Penn State by the Graduate Faculty Teaching Award (2002), The Wilson Award for Excellence in Teaching (2004, EMS), and the Faculty Mentoring Award (2008, EMS).

Dr. Freeman’s research accomplishments have been honored by the European Association of Organic Geochemists with the Peter Schenck Award and by the Society for Sedimentary Geology with the James Lee Wilson Medal. She is currently a member of the National Academy of Sciences Board on Earth Sciences and Resources, serves on advisory boards for Indiana University and MIT, is Associate Editor for the journal Annual Reviews in Earth and Planetary Sciences and was Chair for the Gordon Research Conference in Organic Geochemistry in 2008. She is a Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and also a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. Dr. Freeman’s education includes a postdoctoral appointment at the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, graduate studies in the Geological Sciences at Indiana University (M.S., Ph.D.), and a B.A. from Wellesley College.


National Academy of Sciences , 2013
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