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2023 Dissertation Prize

2023 LAD Dissertation Prize Goes to Katarina Yocum

Katarina Yocum

The Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is pleased to announce the recipient of its 2023 Dissertation Prize, given to an individual who has recently completed an outstanding theoretical or experimental doctoral dissertation in  laboratory astrophysics. For 2023 the prize goes to Dr. Katarina Yocum for her thesis The Development and Application of SubLIME: Sublimation of Laboratory Ices Millimeter/ submillimeter Experiment. Dr. Yocum earned her PhD at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, working with Professor Susanna Widicus Weaver. She is now a NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) Fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).

Dr. Yocum is being cited for “the transformational development of the new method, Sublimation of Laboratory Ices Millimeter/submillimeter  Experiment (SubLIME), for studying interstellar, planetary, and cometary ices.”  Her research involved the employment of a new technique to conduct gas-phase rotational spectroscopy of molecules released from interstellar and cometary ice analogs during thermal and photo-processing of ices. Rotational spectroscopic measurements are structure-specific, allowing more complicated chemistry to be disentangled than in traditional studies. These new results are also directly comparable to observations of comets and interstellar gases. Dr. Yocum built the instrument in the Widicus Weaver Lab at Emory University and a second instrument in the SubLIME Lab at NASA GSFC, conducted all of the measurements, analyzed all of the results, and published two manuscripts as part of her graduate research including work on the gas-phase chemistry above a pure methanol ice during photolysis with UV radiation. The results indicate a complicated chemical network of products from this simple one-component ice. Several known interstellar molecules that had previously not been detected in ice experiments were confirmed from the structure-specificity of the rotational measurements. Also, a striking match between the product spectrum and the spectrum of Orion-KL was demonstrated.

Dr. Yocum received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Physical Chemistry in 2022, though a large fraction of her dissertation research was performed at Emory University.

She received an American Chemical Society Certified BS in Chemistry summa cum laude from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania in 2017. Dr. Yocum was a graduate research assistant at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) from 2020-2022and was awarded a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship in 2022. She was a John Mather Nobel Scholar in 2017 and she received the American Chemical Society’s Undergraduate Award in Analytical Chemistry in 2017.

The LAD Dissertation Prize includes a cash award, a framed certificate, and an invited lecture at a meeting of the Laboratory Astrophysics Division.


Phillip Stancil
LAD Past-Chair
University of Georgia
+1 (706) 542-2485

Rachel L. Smith
LAD Secretary
NC Museum of Natural Sciences / Appalachian State University
+1 (919) 707-8239

Katarina Yocum
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

The AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD, advances our understanding of the universe through the promotion of fundamental theoretical and experimental research into the underlying processes that drive the cosmos.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS,, established in 1899 is a major international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publishing, meetings, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.