Christopher Chyba '82
Honorary Degree Citation


Chris Chyba, you are an astrobiologist and public policy analyst, with a passion for understanding the origins of life on this planet and the possibility for life on others, and a determination to protect civilization from self destruction.

You graduated with Honors and Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore in 1982 with a major in physics and minors in mathematics and philosophy; went on to study mathematics and the history of philosophy and science, on a Marshall scholarship, at Cambridge; and to earn your Ph.D. in astronomy at Cornell under the guidance of Carl Sagan.

Within two years you were already chairing the Science Definition Team for NASA's mission to explore the possibility of microbial life beneath the icy crust of JupiterÕs moon, Europa, and then serving as Director for International Environmental Affairs, as a White House Fellow and a member of the National Security Council staff.

In 1994, you were recognized by Time Magazine as one of America's most promising leaders of age 40 and under, and in 1996 by a Presidential Early Career Award for - and I quote, "demonstrating exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of science and technology during the 21st century."

You have been a visiting scientist in the department of Geosciences and Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Princeton; have taught in the department of planetary sciences at the University of Arizona; and have advised the White House on, among other issues, national response to infectious disease and surveillance for biological terrorism. You currently hold the Carl Sagan Chair for the Study of Life in the Universe at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute, while serving at the same time both as Associate Professor of Geological and Environmental Sciences and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford.

Your extensive research and publications range across topics from the origin of the solar system, to the design and functioning of spacecraft, to the possible role of asteroids and comets in delivering organic molecules to earth, to the exploration of alternative biological systems and of their potential for creating life elsewhere in the universe, to nuclear proliferation. You draw on widely diverse disciplines, offering models of interdisciplinary clarity and innovation that inform public policy as they expand the frontiers of science and of human imagination.

In 2001, you were awarded the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and cited by that foundation for your dedication to interdisciplinary thinking and to wide-ranging scholarship, and your ability to communicate difficult theoretical ideas to a general audience in a manner that - and I quote "allows [everyone] to share your enthusiasm for the wonders of life on Earth and the importance of its preservation."

Chris Chyba, your cosmic vision and its contributions to both scientific understanding and to policies that will protect humanity and its environment inspire awe in this community, making us so terrifically proud that you are one of us.

Upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power vested in me by the Board of Managers of Swarthmore College and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I have the honor to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Science.

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