#RespectYourElders: Margaret Kivelson is a celebrated space physicist and planetary scientist. Her lifetime contributions have advanced our knowledge of Jupiter and space as a whole. Now, at age 90, she continues to conduct research and share her knowledge through teaching.
From an early age, Kivelson excelled in her studies. Her aptitude for math and hunger to explore the unknown led to her acceptance at Radcliffe College, Harvard University’s college for women.
“I thought [math] was one of the easier subjects,” Kivelson told the New York Times this year. “And I knew that opinion was not common.”
During her second year at Radcliffe, the Space Race began to make world headlines. Busy Harvard physics professors no longer had the time to teach Radcliffe and Harvard students separately, so she and her female classmates were invited to attend Harvard lectures alongside their male colleagues.
Her love of physics soared.
“It was the early days in the field, so the amount of background that one needed was not as extensive as it is today,” Kivelson told NASA. “I caught up pretty quickly and I decided this was a wonderful area to be in because there was so much not understood.”
Kivelson went on to earn her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1957 and was recognized by NASA for her graduate school research on hydrogen pressure and its effects on our galaxy. This research allowed her to join the NASA team planning the Galileo mission to Jupiter.
Once Galileo entered Jupiter’s orbit, Kivelson’s expertise and intuition proved to be invaluable for NASA. Her tireless work on the mission led to the groundbreaking discovery of an ocean on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.
“It’s one of the most fundamental discoveries ever in planetary science,” Dr. Louise Prockter, the director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston told the New York Times. “It spawned a revolution, really.”
Today, Kivelson’s contributions to science are far from over. She actively contributes to the 2022 European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission and still conducts her own independent research on Jupiter’s magnetosphere. She also works as a physics professor at the University of California, Los Angeles where she regularly hosts dinners for students and faculty to discuss the many mysteries of space.
You can read more about Kivelson and her contributions to physics in a recent New York Times profile here.