Photo of Robert P. Sharp

Robert P. Sharp

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For his research that has illuminated the nature and origin of the forms and formation processes of planetary surfaces and for teaching two generations of scientists and laymen to appreciate them; for his recruitment and leadership of a successful multidisciplinary department of earth and planetary scientists who have gained world recognition.

Robert Phillip Sharp started out as a quarterback at the California Institute of Technology, but ended his career as one of the most celebrated professors that Caltech ever produced. A scientist through and through, Sharp disagreed with temporary rule changes that he claimed turned the sport of football more into a game of “brute force” than mental prowess.

Sharp earned his Master of Science from Caltech before completing his doctorate in geology at Harvard in 1938. He returned to his alma mater in the late 1940s, setting about changing the way the scientific community approached the study of planetary surfaces. He expanded the exploration of geochemistry, slowly building up the institute’s geology department over the course of several decades. He also is credited with integrating the study of earth science with research done on other planets like Mars, and is acknowledged for his work on basin and range structure, as well as sand dunes and glaciers.

By Lauren Clason