U-Idaho Talent Makes Waves

Monday, April 9 2012


By Donna Emert

MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho graduate student in geological sciences, Alex Patthoff, and his research adviser, geology professor Simon Kattenhorn, have made a discovery of international significance.  

Patthoff and Kattenhorn's groundbreaking research documents evidence of a liquid ocean on Saturn's moon Enceladus, which is currently being imaged by NASA's Cassini spacecraft and has intrigued planetary scientists with its erupting geysers of water, emanating from giant cracks near the south pole of the moon.

“That a discovery of this magnitude comes out of the University of Idaho is a testament to the far-reaching science being done at our institution,” said Kattenhorn. “The discovery of evidence of a global ocean on Enceladus represents a major scientific advance: water provides the key ingredient for a habitable environment and thus astrobiological potential, which is why the search for liquid water elsewhere in the solar system has been one of the primary directives for NASA for decades.”

Patthoff's doctoral research, documenting evidence of the find, has already secured his selection as the 2012 recipient of the national Pellas-Ryder Award.

Patthoff was selected as the 2012 award recipient for his research article, “A fracture history on Enceladus provides evidence for a global ocean," published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The research was co-authored by Professor Kattenhorn.

The Pellas-Ryder Award was established in 2001 to honor the memories of meteoriticist Paul Pellas and lunar scientist Graham Ryder, and is proffered jointly by the Geological Society of America and the Meteoritical Society of America. It is awarded to an undergraduate or graduate student who is first author of the best planetary science paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal during the year prior to the award.

“The award is a great honor and reflects positively on the strong planetary science program we are building in the College of Science at the University of Idaho," said Kattenhorn. "Alex is a remarkable student and scientist. This award is truly deserved."

Patthoff also was recently awarded an extremely competitive postdoctoral fellowship from NASA. He will begin the fellowship at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., in early 2013. His research there will explore the formation of deformation ridges on numerous icy moons of the outer solar system.

Patthoff also is a current recipient of a nationally competitive NASA Earth and Space Sciences Graduate Fellowship and was named the Outstanding Graduate Student in Research and Creative Activity at the University of Idaho in 2011. 
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