Katherine Haines Freeman ’84 Receives One of the Highest Honors Awarded to American Scientists

June 12, 2013

Katherine Haines Freeman ’84 was recently elected to membership in the National Academy of the Sciences (NAS), a crowning achievement for American scientists. Freeman is a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.

At Wellesley, Freeman double-majored in geology (see Wellesley Geosciences) and classical civilization. After graduation, she earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in geology at Indiana University. As a graduate student, Freeman participated in the creation of a major analytical advance that enabled scientists to measure the abundance of stable isotopes of certain elements within individual organic compounds. That instrumentation is now used in many fields, including energy research, forensics, and the food industry, as well as Freeman’s own current research.

“I work with fossil molecules, or biomarkers, from ancient plants, algae, and bacteria,” explained Freeman. “Trace amounts of biomarkers are preserved in ancient soils and sediments, and they carry information about environments and climates of the past. I have used biomarkers to reconstruct atmospheric CO2, patterns in rainwater, and changes in plant ecology through Earth's history.”

Freeman has published extensively and has served as a mentor to many students. She is, or has been, a fellow of many distinguished organizations including the John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Geological Society of America, and the European Association of Geochemistry, which gave her the Science Innovation Award in 2012. She has also received recognition for excellence in teaching throughout her career.  

“I am grateful to Wellesley for an excellent education, of course, and for fabulous friends and classmates,” said Freeman. “Wellesley gave me, through both experience and expectation, a confidence that women belong in the sciences. This sense of belonging helped me navigate experiences in graduate school and during my early career when there were few female role models in my profession. I am happy things are changing.”

Members of the National Academy are charged with providing independent, objective advice on matters related to science and technology. According to a National Academy of Sciences press release, there were 84 new members and 21 foreign associates from 14 countries elected this year. The total number of active members in the organization is 2,179; the total number of foreign associates is 437.