2020 Houtermans Award Citation & Response

Citation by Frédéric Moynier

It is an immense pleasure to present the 2020 Houtermans Award to Kun Wang. Kun receives this prize in recognition of his contribution to understanding planetary differentiation and the origin of volatile loss among terrestrial planets. I am very proud of Kun’s achievements and that it is now recognized formally by this prestigious award.

Kun started his PhD at Washington University in St Louis under my supervision after graduating from CUG Wuhan (BSc). At that time, we did not have a mass-spectrometer yet and, thinking about it now, it was a risky choice for Kun to join our laboratory… I am not sure I was very clear on this before he joined us! We were lucky to be welcomed by Nicolas Dauphas to his laboratory in Chicago and, without this opportunity, Kun’s PhD thesis would have been quite different. Kun quickly mastered Fe isotope geochemistry and realized a very successful PhD thesis, staying less than 5 years in St Louis, and publishing 6 first author papers. He was my first PhD student to graduate and I learnt a lot with him on how to mentor students, and in some sense, he had to deal with teething problems from me as a supervisor (OK-I admit I had to ask Ed. Inglis on how to say this properly in English as I was going to simply translate the French idiomatic: “to clean up the plasters”). I remember that for his first manuscript I did not really know how to explain how to write a scientific paper, but Kun is such a fast and independent learner that I actually had very little mentoring to do.

I was very proud when he got offered a prestigious Origin of Life fellowship at Harvard University to work with Stein Jacobsen. In Harvard he developed K isotope geochemistry and truly honed his skills as a first-class scientist. His Nature paper on K isotope fractionation in lunar samples and the implications for the origin of the Moon is now a classic and Kun is considered one of the leaders in the field. These new successes lead him to quickly obtain a faculty position back in St Louis.

Since returning to Washington University, he has expanded his work across a diverse range of problems ranging from continental weathering to chondrule formation, and has built a strong group of people, including successful students such as Tuller-Ross and Tian. His reputation appears to precede him as when I am visiting various universities in china I am simply known as “Kun’s supervisor”. This is a real pleasure to follow his success and a delight that this has been recognized today.

Frédéric Moynier
Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris

Response by Kun Wang

Thank you, Fred, for your generous citation. Thank you, President Gíslason, the Houtermans Award Committee, and the European Association of Geochemistry for granting me this award. I feel incredibly humbled to receive such an honor as I see the names of so many respected geochemists on the list of awardees. I also feel extremely grateful as this is like a dream that has finally come true. However, I know very well from deep within my heart that I could not have accomplished anything without the sincere help I received from many people over these years. Please allow me to take this opportunity to acknowledge those mentors and role models who have shaped and lifted me through my academic career.

My scientific career started as a student studying geology at China University of Geosciences in Wuhan (of all places. I wish health and safety for all the people living there). I thank all the professors who taught my geology and geochemistry classes, which formed the foundation of my knowledge that I use every single day in my research. I am especially grateful to Rong Liu (刘嵘) who offered me my first research opportunity and helped me to complete my senior’s thesis on “Petrography and Mineralogy Characteristics of Ningqiang Carbonaceous Chondrite”. I thank her for teaching and showing me how to conduct research tasks from a basic literature review, microscopic and chemical analyses, and giving me the opportunity to write my first research paper. Mostly, I thank her for introducing me to the world of meteoritic studies, which has been my favorite area of research ever since.

Upon leaving college, I received a fellowship from my master advisor Weibiao Hsu (徐伟彪) at Purple Mountain Observatory, Chinese Academy of Sciences. I am indebted to him for teaching me cosmochemistry and everything about Antarctic meteorites, which I started to work on with Weibiao. I am also very glad to have followed in Weibiao’s steps becoming a graduate student in his alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, where I was fortunate enough to meet my PhD advisor, Frédéric Moynier. Fred has been my biggest supporter since day one. He trained me in the lab, taught me all my clean-lab and mass-spectrometer skills, and how to think independently and build an original scientific project. For five years, he transformed me from a graduate student into an independent scientist. He is also a great role model to me for being creative and extremely hard working, which shaped my work ethic today. Whenever I encounter any difficulties, he is always supportive and available to provide me with reliable advice and encouragement even up to this day. I truly owe all my thanks to you, Fred.

After receiving my degree from Washington University, I was gratefully awarded the Origins of Life Initiative Postdoctoral Fellowship to work with Stein Jacobsen at Harvard University, who I benefited from immensely. During these years as a postdoc, Stein was a father figure to me in both science and daily life. I am so impressed by how deep and broad his knowledge is. I also miss all the weekly reading groups and inspiring discussions with Sarah Stewart, Sujoy Mukhopadhyay, and Charles Langmuir at Harvard.

I would also like to say thanks for the support from my former teachers and current colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, Slava Solomatov, Frank Podosek, Bob Criss, Randy Korotev, Bob Dymek, Bill Mckinnon, Katharina Lodders, Alian Wang, Jeff Catalano and many others. I am particularly grateful to my faculty mentors Brad Jolliff and Bruce Fegley, who have always provided me with valuable advice. I also want to thank the past and present scientists and students within my lab, Heng Chen, Piers Koefoed, Zhen Tian, Brenna Tuller-Ross, Mason Neuman, and Hannah Bloom. This award is also thanks to you. I enjoy working with you every day and I learn as much from you that I hope you learn from me.

Finally, I wish to thank my parents for giving me everything. They never had any chance to go to college or even high school. However, they worked hard and sacrificed a lot of their own comfort to provide me with the means to go to college and continue my education. I dedicate this award to my parents.

Thank you once more for this honor. This unprecedented year has been difficult, and I wish for everyone to stay safe and healthy. I Hope to see you all at next year’s Goldschmidt conference in person. Thanks!

Kun Wang (王昆)
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences
Washington University in St. Louis
2020 EAG Houtermans Awardee