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In memoriam: Emeritus Professor Sandra Pizzarello


Collage of photos of the late ASU Emeritus Professor Sandra Pizzarello.

Emeritus Professor Sandra Pizzarello joined the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department (now the School of Molecular Sciences) in 1977, working with John Cronin and studying organic compounds associated with meteorites.

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October 29, 2021

Emeritus Professor Sandra Pizzarello is remembered by friends and colleagues in Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences for her kindness, achievements and integrity. She passed away on Sunday, Oct. 24.

Pizzarello, a native of Italy, earned her doctorate in biological sciences in Padua. In 1977, she joined the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department (now the School of Molecular Sciences), working with John Cronin and studying organic compounds associated with meteorites.

NASA exobiologist George Cooper, who earned his PhD at ASU under Cronin and worked closely with Pizzarello, stated, “Her 1997 paper in Science, with John Cronin, is still regarded as the seminal paper on certain properties of extraterrestrial amino acids.”

Pizzarello was long known for her diligence and integrity. Reflecting on her guidance while a graduate student, Cooper recalled, “Sandra was a thorough and careful scientist. She conveyed to me and other students the importance of rigorous and honest performance in all research endeavors.”

Her thoroughness and scientific rigor contributed to Pizzarello’s success as a distinguished researcher. She was regarded as an international expert in the analysis of organic compounds from meteorites.

“Sandra was a highly respected and influential researcher in the area of identification and analysis of organic molecules in meteorites,” former School of Molecular Sciences (SMS) Director Ian Gould noted. “Her laboratory skills made her a sought-after collaborator, and her scientific contributions established SMS as a place of excellence in the field.”

School of Molecular Sciences Director Tijana Rajh added, “Sandra's scientific contributions forever changed our understanding of the role extraterrestrial compounds played in the origin and evolution of life on Earth. Her research on the chiral excess of amino acids in meteorites still informs research today.”

Carleton Moore, longtime director of the ASU Center for Meteorite Studies who worked with Pizzarello for many years, observed, “Sandra did an outstanding job of continuing ASU’s leadership position in the organic analysis of carbon-rich meteorites. We are very fortunate that she joined John Cronin and George Yuen in their analyses of these important objects.”

Pizzarello was an accomplished scientist as well as a wonderful and admired colleague who will be missed.

“Sandra was a gentle, kind and extremely dedicated and focused scientist,” said Regents Professor Peter Buseck, a longtime friend and colleague. “It was always a pleasure to talk with her and to compare notes about meteorites and the world in general. She was modest about her very significant accomplishments, but there was never any doubt about her expertise. She leaves a big hole in the ASU effort in meteoritics, and a bigger hole in our research family.”

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