National Academy of Sciences honors Meenakshi Wadhwa with J. Lawrence Smith Medal

January 21, 2021

The National Academy of Sciences has announced that School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa will be honored with the 2021 J. Lawrence Smith Medal for her extraordinary scientific achievements.

“Wadhwa has deepened the world’s understanding of the evolutionary history of the solar system through her significant contributions to the sciences of cosmochemistry, solar system chronology, meteoritics and trace element geochemistry,” the academy stated in a release. School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa has been awarded the 2021 J. Lawrence Smith Medal by the National Academy of Sciences. Photo by ASU Download Full Image

The J. Lawrence Smith Medal is awarded every three years for recent original and meritorious investigations of meteoric bodies. The award includes a $50,000 prize and was established as a gift from Sarah Julia Smith in memory of her husband. It has been presented since 1888.

“Professor Wadhwa is well-deserving of this prestigious award from the National Academy of Sciences,” said Arizona State University Provost Pro Tempore Nancy Gonzales. “Her trailblazing scholarship is leading to discoveries that are advancing her field and deepening our understanding of the cosmos. She is a committed scholar and leader who represents the best of ASU’s academic community.”

Among Wadhwa’s many groundbreaking accomplishments that led to this recognition is her use of long-lived radioisotopes to refine the age of the solar system, in the process correcting the commonly used ratio for decay. Her studies of the trace elements and stable isotopes (especially hydrogen) in meteoritic minerals have also allowed her to develop new ways to interpret that data and reveal planetary secrets, particularly those of Mars.

“I’m truly humbled when I think of those who were awarded this medal before me,” Wadhwa said. “But I’m also very honored, not just for myself but also for all the amazing students and postdoctoral researchers I’ve been so fortunate to work with over the years.”

In addition to serving as director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Wadhwa is currently on the NASA Advisory Council and chairs its science committee; she also is serving on the joint NASA-ESA Mars Sample Planning Group. She was president of the Meteoritical Society for the past two years, and recently also served on the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board and the National Academies Space Studies Board.

National Academy of Sciences announcement of the 2021 J. Lawrence Smith Medal to ASU’s Meenakshi Wadhwa. Credit: NAS/ASU

Wadhwa is among 20 individuals that the academy is recognizing for their achievements in a wide range of fields spanning the physical, biological, social and medical sciences. In addition to Wadhwa, award recipients include representatives from Brown University, Harvard University & Smithsonian, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, George Washington University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Montana State University, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, University of British Columbia, University of California at Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. They will be honored in a virtual ceremony during the National Academy of Sciences' 158th annual meeting April 24–26.

About the National Academy of Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, engineering and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


ASU global studies alum pursues career as a foreign service officer

January 21, 2021

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, within a community of people from all over the world, Arizona State University alumna Mariam Mead Yaqub felt drawn to cultural exchange from a young age.

Mead Yaqub chose to go to ASU thanks to the financial support she could receive, but she was also drawn to Barrett, The Honors College and other opportunities a large research university could provide. ASU alum Mariam Mead Yaqub ASU alumna Mariam Mead Yaqub Download Full Image

Choosing a major was a more difficult decision.

“I used to joke that I may have held the record for most number of declared majors over my time at ASU,” she said.

Mead Yaqub’s interest would soon turn to global studies, thanks to a friend who introduced her to some of the courses. She quickly realized that she found the major for her after she audited a class.

“That class made me realize my career interests lay more with global studies than with art, so I switched majors one final time.”

During her time at ASU, Mead Yaqub would take advantage of the opportunities and experiences it provided. She was connected with faculty who were leaders in their fields and people who had a wide range of backgrounds. 

Mead Yaqub was able to work with organizations that advocated for the things she was passionate about, such as Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees (COAR), which tutors refugee students at local elementary schools.

“My dad's family was displaced by war multiple times, so the trauma of losing everything and moving to a new country was something I witnessed growing up,” Mead Yaqub said.

“I wanted to be a welcoming, friendly presence in the lives of people like my family and help them through the often-disorienting process of starting a life in the U.S.”

At ASU, Mead Yaqub also had the chance to meet the diplomat in residence – Southwest. Even though her interests always aligned with a career in foreign service, she hadn’t really considered it an option that was available to her.

“Meeting the diplomat in residence helped me learn what foreign service officers actually do, and planted a seed that this was something I could pursue.” 

ASU alum Mariam Mead Yaqub

Mariam Mead Yaqub graduated from ASU's School of Politics and Global Studies in 2008 with a BA in global studies.

Upon graduation, Mead Yaqub would earn a Master of Arts in comparative and international education at Lehigh and pursue a career in higher education, where she held a number of roles ranging from residential life to student engagement.

She was drawn to a career in higher education because she wanted to help students through a transformative part of their lives.

“My experience in college is what really drew me to that field, both the hard time I had adjusting to the transition, as well as the support and mentorship of staff and faculty," said Mead Yaqub.

However, the seed that was planted in college about becoming a foreign service officer had started to sprout. It was four years after applying with the Department of State that she was officially hired.

“It was incredibly exciting and also a little surreal, to have such a long-anticipated goal come to fruition.”

Mead Yaqub received her first overseas posting in December 2020 in Canberra, Australia. Her role as assistant general services officer helps manage the “logistical aspects that keep the embassy running.”

Due to COVID-19, she had a completely remote onboarding. Thankfully, Mead Yaqub was still able to build relationships during the process.

“After spending so much time in training, especially virtually, and an even longer time dreaming of working as a foreign service officer, I am excited to actually experience it and get to know my colleagues in the embassy!”

Mead Yaqub encouraged ASU students with all kinds of backgrounds and professional experiences to consider a career in foreign service. It may be a long and arduous process, but ASU can provide resources and connections to help.

“The scholarship I received, and what I learned at ASU, really shaped my path.”

Matt Oxford

Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, College of Global Futures