The UA Alumni Association will present Dante Lauretta ’93 with the Alumni Achievement Award at the University of Arizona Commencement Ceremony on May 12, 2017. Lauretta is a professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx mission, the UA’s largest-ever space mission.
The Alumni Achievement award is the highest honor the UA Alumni Association can bestow upon alumni. It is given to an alumnus or alumna who has attained prominence in his or her field of endeavor and demonstrated outstanding service to the UA. Lauretta has reached the very pinnacle of his field, and through his work, the UA will remain at the forefront of space exploration for years to come.
Lauretta earned bachelor’s degrees in Oriental studies as well as mathematics and physics at the UA. After earning a doctorate in earth and planetary sciences from Washington University in St. Louis, he returned to the UA in 2001 to join the faculty of the LPL.
Lauretta is an expert in the analysis of extraterrestrial materials like lunar samples, meteorites and comet particles. His work contributes to our understanding of the chemistry of the early solar system and the origin of complex molecules that may have led to life on Earth. He has published over 70 peer-reviewed publications and led or participated in over 20 NASA grants and missions — all while teaching undergraduate and graduate students, giving scholarly presentations, participating in conferences, and serving on departmental, University and extramural committees.
The list of awards and honors Lauretta has received is both long and varied. He has an asteroid named in his honor; he was named a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 and Innovator of the Year by the Arizona governor in 2011; and Good Housekeeping Magazine named his Xtronaut the Best Family Board Game of 2016.
On Sept. 8, 2016, Lauretta earned a spot in history for himself and the UA when the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully launched on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu and return a sample of its material.
As important as the OSIRIS-REx mission is to furthering our understanding of the early solar system, under Lauretta’s leadership it also aims to further public engagement in science. The mission’s website, asteroidmission.org, features entertaining and engaging videos about planetary science, and mission staff appear as guest speakers at local conventions and visit local classrooms. Lauretta has also hosted a regular OSIRIS-REx Science Club at the Tucson Boys and Girls Club.