Jay Melosh

June 23rd, 1947 - September 11th, 2020

Biography


H. Jay Melosh was a trusted scientist known around the world as well as a kind and caring colleague, friend, and family man. He had a phenomenal number of publications that have changed the field for the better.  He has had an asteroid named after him (8216 Melosh).  He was a University Distinguished Professor of Purdue University and a Regents Professor at the University of Arizona.  He was awarded the American Geophysical Union 2008 Harry H. Hess Medal - for “outstanding achievements in research in the constitution and evolution of Earth and sister planets.”


In addition to his scientific life, Jay was an avid woodworker. Over the years he made furniture, a wonderful clock and was a consignment artist at Artist’s Own, and Art Co-op in Lafayette, IN. He often commented that his most popular item he sold at Artist’s Own was seam rippers, a tool used by sewing enthusiasts.  Jay and his wife Ellen built a cabin in New Mexico together.  She says, "I mean literally we pounded every nail and designed it ourselves. Jay used a text from high school on building as our guide.  Jay loved our little lake here on Cape Cod and spent lots of time in his small boat out on the lake."  Jay also enjoyed travel, which he did extensively. He had visited every continent except Antarctica and had wonderful stories about every visit. 


Below is a section of his wikipedia page in order to know the scope of his amazing works:


He was an American geophysicist specializing in impact cratering. He earned a degree in physics from Princeton University and a doctoral degree in physics and geology from Caltech in 1972. His PhD thesis concerned quarks. Melosh's research interests include impact craters, planetary tectonics, and the physics of earthquakes and landslides. His recent research includes studies of the giant impact origin of the moon, the Chicxulub impact that is thought to have extinguished most dinosaurs, and studies of ejection of rocks from their parent bodies. He was active in astrobiological studies that relate chiefly to the exchange of microorganisms between the terrestrial planets (a process known as panspermia or transpermia).


Melosh was a member of the American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, Meteoritical Society, American Astronomical Society (Division of Planetary Sciences,) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was the recipient of the Barringer Medal of the Meteoritical Society for his work on the physics of impact, and of the G. K. Gilbert Award from the Geological Society of America. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2003.

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Family

About

Name Jay Melosh
Date of Birth June 23rd, 1947
Date of Death September 11th, 2020
Interests woodworking, planetary sciences, travel
In Memoriam Donation The H. Jay Melosh Planetary Science Engagement Fund
Milestone

Milestones

1965 - 1969 Princeton University, A.B. (physics) magna cum laude
1969 - 1972 Caltech, Ph.D. (physics and geology)
1972 Best Scientific Secretary Prize, Int'l Summer School of Theoretical Physics, Erice, Sicily
1976 - 1979 Assistant/Associate Professor of Planetary Science, Caltech
1979 - 1982 Associate Professor of Geophysics, SUNY, Stony Brook
1982 - 2009 Associate Professor/Professor/Regents Professor of Planetary Science, University of Arizona
1988 Fellow of the Geological Society of America
1988 Fellow of the Meteoritical Society
1989 AGU Editor's Citation for Excellence in Refereeing, Tectonics
1993 Fellow of the American Geophysical Union
1996 Paul Simon Guggenheim Fellow
1999 Barringer Medal of the Meteoritical Society
2000 Asteroid 8216 name “Melosh” Approved by the IAU
2001 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
2001 Gilbert Award of the Geological Society of America
2003 Member, National Academy of Sciences
2005 Humboldt Prize Fellowship
2008 Hess Medal of the American Geophysical Union
2009 Leon Blitzer Teaching Award, January
2009 - 2020 University Distinguished Professor, Purdue University

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Tributes



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Cheryl Pierce published a tribute .

A reading from Ellen Melosh:
Jay was not a deeply religious man. He did embrace the Unitarian Universalist faith which we shared together. If he had a statement of belief, I think the following words by Patrick Murfin from his book, “We Build Temples in the Heart” express it well.
Credo
We believe -
that many streams join to make a river,
that the way to wisdom lies in an open ear and heart, that goodness may be pursued for the sake of goodness and not from fear of punishment, that knowing and not knowing are part of the same, and ambiguity is permissible.
And from Rev. Tom Owen Towle’s book “Freethinking Mystics with Hands”. Jay was very pleased with my sermon on this topic and especially the following:
Freethinkers are rethinkers, neither afraid to take sides nor reluctant to change sides. No tradition, no revelation, no privileged knowledge lies beyond question or critical examination. There is only experience to be interpreted in the light of further experience.
Words from Ellen:
I met Jay 20 years ago through an on-line matching service - yes, they did exist 20 years ago! We often laughed about the fact that I was looking for someone to go to some holiday parties with - I just didn’t know how many holiday’s I’d end up spending with him.
My first attraction to Jay was his intellect. Jay was a man who never ran out of new ideas and new areas to explore. He was the quintessential professor. He loved every one of his students, both graduate and undergraduate. He would often turn to me when a student was having difficulty and ask how he should handle it. Why he thought I’d help, I have no idea. But we spent many hours talking through ideas and strategies. And Jay would be so happy when a student had a particular success.
Jay often spoke of Ed McCollough, with whom he worked at the University of Arizona. Ed’s emphasis was on excellence - believing that good was the enemy of excellence. Jay adopted this philosophy and lived it to his last days. He strongly believed that science needs to be rigorous and that the best science comes from struggling through difficult problems and constant learning.
And there was another side of Jay Melosh. He was a tender, caring and supportive mate. He encouraged me to try many new things and was beside me 100% as I began my efforts at a weaving studio. He loved to share his science with me and seemed to love to hear of my newest weaving students and weaving adventures. We had an amazing relationship with almost no areas of disagreement. So often we would vocalize exactly what the other was thinking. He was delighted to have found his “perfect retirement house” on Cape Cod and we spent the past two years making perfect for us. He was truly my sole mate and I will miss him more than words can say.

Jay took great pride in how the Planetary Science program at Purdue developed. He would never take credit for it, always saying that its success was the result of everyone’s work.
To the Planetary Science faculty at Purdue, and especially the new, young faculty, I hope you will endeavor to live up to the standards Jay Melosh tried to instill in his students and colleagues. Always strive for excellence. Always embrace new ideas and new directions. Don’t get stuck repeating the same research over and over. And always remain humble, remembering that seldom are new discoveries made by a single person. Make Jay proud!!
I’d like to end by quoting from the preface of Jay’s last book - Planetary Surface Processes. I think his words are important and I hope others will take them to heart.
“Anyone who teaches this subject must realize that planetary science is an active and ever- changing subject. New discoveries are constantly being made. .....
Ah yes, one last piece of advice (and my former students would not forgive me if I failed to mention this!) The stories. Some of them are here in the book, cleaned up a bit and properly referenced. .... Stories about people, about ideas, about what motivated them to do what and how some great idea came from something that seemed wholly unrelated. Some of it is the usual scuttlebutt of science, told over coffee or around campfires. But most of my stories are different: Like Aesop’s fables, they all have a moral. Like all teachers I am often distressed by how little students seem to remember about a topic after the lapse of even one semester, let alone a few years. So I try to wrap the really important ideas into a really good story about someone or something. .... I’m not sure it works but I do meet students who, after many years, still retain the story, if not the point that it was meant to illustrate. ..... I do ask you not to drain the human interest from science. Science is done by humans, and for humans to continue to do it they must realize how quirky and illogical the course of discovery can be.”

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Boris Ivanov published a tribute .

I and many my colleagues in Russian Academy of Science will remember Jay forever. We met in 1989 and worked together for many topics. His beautiful mind and deep experience helped me to expand horizons and to borrow essential moral rules. I deeply regret.
Boris Ivanov, Moscow, Russia

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Bob Cronon published a tribute .

I am so sorry for the loss of Jay, who clearly meant so much to his family, friends, colleagues, students, and science. I wish I had gotten to know him better. May his love and memory liven on in the hearts of many.

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Denton Ebel published a tribute .

It was sad to hear of Jay's sudden passing. Jay was always a great source of career advice, and I was happy as a Purdue MS & PhD grad to see him join the Purdue faculty, where he brought such excellence in planetary science. Faith Ebel and I had lovely times with Jay and Ellen at Meteoritical Society meetings. Fun to talk science with, or to be on a dance floor with. We will miss him!

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Louise Faucher published a tribute .

Jay’s wife Ellen runs a weaving studio in their home to which I belong and therefore had the pleasure of getting to know him a bit. Although I understand he was a giant in his field of planetary science, he was just a regular guy around the house with a ready smile and a warm greeting. He was the kind of person you just liked immediately. It was a joy to have met him and I extend my condolences to his family at his untimely passing.
Louise Faucher

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Cheryl Pierce published a tribute .

I knew Jay Melosh for 44 years. He was a giant in the field of planetary science, a giant in my life, and simply larger-than-life to many. He was my thesis advisor during his Caltech years. I think I was his only official Ph.D student at Caltech, but Jay worked and published with a large number of students even then, among them Dan Dzurisin, Judy (Burt) Pechmann, Seth Stein, and Quinn Passey. Jay, as others may have mentioned, started off as a particle physicist in Murray Gell-Mann’s group at Caltech, did a post-doc at CERN, but never forgot his love of the natural world, especially geology, and large explosions in particular! I was a lucky duck to be able to work with him, and I only wish that I knew then what I know now, and could have really taken advantage of the intellectual opportunities available. Youth is indeed wasted on the young!
Among my treasured memories are the field trips. Going to the toe of the Blackhawk landslide with Jay and UCLA Professor Ron Shreve.
Waking up the morning after my orals (thankfully I passed!) with Jay and his post-doc Arthur Raefsky (he of Tekton finite-element fame) camped out on the ejecta blanket of Meteor Crater. Sunrise over the rim, not another soul around, and after a light breakfast we hiked up and over the rim and all the way down to the floor. Pure magic. Years later joining his students for a geologic tour of the atomic bomb craters at the Nevada test site (during a short-lived thaw in international relations), and most recently taking one of my classes at Washington University to join with his on a trip to the Kentland impact structure here upstate (some of you here may have been there). It’s a quarry site of course, this being Indiana, and walking through the interior of the central peak of a complex impact crater with Jay was, as any devotee of impact craters might tell you, would have to have been, and was, an unforgettable experience.
Jay also had a wicked sense of humor, and sometimes you never quite knew if he was having you on or not. I can recall a time when a few of us were discussing the work of such and such, and noting that said person had made a sign error or two in his model calculations. Jay offered with a perfectly straight face that he never made sign errors. Mere mortals are prone to such, but after some thought, it seemed to me at least — and to anyone who knew Jay’s formidable
math and physics powers — that he might have been telling the truth!
It goes without saying that I wouldn’t have led the life I had if it had not been for Jay, and for the directions and guidance, and planetary surface process interests he instilled in me. And for the example of a rigorous scientific life. Some of the best advice he ever gave me was what he left unsaid. At one point as a graduate student I was struggling with something computational, and I went to ask him for advice. His simply said to go figure it out myself. I was a bit taken
aback, but whether said out of impatience or Obi-wan wisdom, I went back and indeed solved the problem myself. And it wasn’t all that hard. And I think it left me with profound sense of what was possible, and to not be afraid of taking on new types of problems and exploring new
questions. There is no better feeling than hiking up and over the rim at the dawn of a new day. You never know what you may find. Jay left the planet way too soon.
William B. McKinnon
October 13, 2020
Saint Louis

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Glenn & Tricia Melosh published a tribute .

Henry Jay Melosh at one month with his father Henry and mother Eleanor in Ridgewood, New Jersey, 1947.

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Sandy Fomica published a tribute .

I am the administrative assistant for the graduate program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University. Some of our students received their Ph.D. from Dr. Melosh and so i had the privilege of knowing him. He was a very kind man and always treated everyone with respect and kindness. I will miss him. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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Rachel published a tribute .

Jay is the first planetary scientist I met, and he is the reason why I joined the field. His willingness to talk to a young undergraduate made me feel like I belonged. I cherish everything I ever learned from Jay. It was an honor to know him, and he will be missed.

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Cheryl Pierce published a tribute .

I only worked with Dr. Melosh for a short time. In that time, he never failed to mention when his colleagues had an accomplishment or hit a milestone. That speaks so much to his character. He was always lifting others up and was genuinely thrilled for them. He will be greatly missed. To his family, I am truly sorry for your loss.

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Daniel Janes published a tribute .

I will simply repeat what i wrote about Jay in the acknowledgements of my 1990 doctoral thesis;

"When I decided to enter this field, I had the typical vision of joyfully pouring over images of distant worlds and spinning glowing tales of what they were like and how they got that way, a syndrome known as 'looking at pretty pictures'. It was my great good fortune however to become a student of Dr. Jay Melosh. Jay made me realize that hand waving and tale spinning, no matter how intriguing, are not science. Science is harder and more rewarding than that. Jay has a sign in his office which reads: "Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions." I asked an awful lot of dumb questions and he unfailingly answered them with patience and insight. To my chagrin, I was afraid to ask some dumb questions, which invariably led to asking a lot more dumber ones."

Daniel M. (Buck) Janes

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Phil Groves published a tribute .

I was deeply saddened to learn of the recent passing of Dr. Jay Melosh. I am the writer and one of the producers of a new IMAX film called ASTEROID HUNTERS. During my research for the film, I had the good fortune of speaking with Dr. Melosh a number of times. He gave generously of his knowledge and time to make sure my fellow filmmakers and I understood the exotic and powerful forces unleashed by an asteroid impact. His knowledge was highly specialized, which made his help and contributions priceless. He didn’t ask for anything in exchange for his assistance, which revealed a self-evident belief that knowledge is meant to be shared. Dr. Melosh is listed in the end credits of the film as a science advisor, which is a small and humble expression of thanks for a great scientist and person. — Phil Groves, Writer/Producer of ASTEROID HUNTERS

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A Tribute to Jay Melosh

October 13th, 2020 at 3:00pm
Slayter Center for Performing Arts
West Lafayette,
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