Catherine Anne Hier-Majumder (1974-2006)

PhD 2003, University of Minnesota


Carnegie Institution

A Beautiful Mind

Catherine Anne Hier-Majumder, pianist, needle artist, reader, outdoor enthusiast, and planetary geophysicist lived a fun and exciting life. Catherine grew up in a western suburb of Chicago in a large and tightly woven family of German and Irish heritage.

Catherine's academic career was adorned with several awards and fellowships. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champagne in 1997 and went on to her PhD supported by a graduate school fellowship and a National Science Foundation Fellowship. She finished her PhD in computational Geophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2003. After a year-long post-doctoral fellowship in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, Catherine joined the Carnegie Institution of Washington D.C. as the MESSENGER fellow until her untimely death on October 27, 2006.

During her relatively short career in science, Catherine made significant contributions to a number of areas in geophysics and planetary physics. Her doctoral research with David Yuen at the University of Minnesota included developing a new technique for analyzing Geoid measurement, simulating mixing in nuclear waste tanks, modeling convective heat transfer in the deep interiors of icy satellites and magma chambers, and developing a new technique of data analysis using adjoint method. During her post-doctoral research at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution, Catherine, her adviser Sean Solomon, and colleagues worked on calculating the mass-radius relationship of the extra-solar planets and predicting a mechanism for core formation in terrestrial planets. Apart from participating in active research, Catherine was also extremely active in bridging the gap between science and policy making. She was a designated Early Career Liaison for the NASA Astrobiology Institute. In many ways, Catherine was a true believer in science for the people.

Despite the demanding nature of her work, Catherine always managed to find time to enjoy life outside academics. She was an avid reader of history, politics, literature, poetry, and the history of science. For most of her acquaintances, the most familiar image of Catherine is one of her absorbed in a book. Playing classical piano was her other favorite pastime. Not many days in her life were devoid of melody. Numerous childhood camping trips in her parents Volkswagen `Camper' and her undergraduate Geology field trips made Catherine an outdoor enthusiast. She loved to travel whether it was a primitive backpacking trip in California, a walk through the mystic hallways of Mogul palaces or the ruins in Sicily. She would usually spend quiet evenings at home by creating vibrant cross-stitch patterns while watching the `News Hour'.

Besides living an extremely active life, Catherine fought a fierce battle with depression. Occasional episodes of illness never kept her away from being a loving wife, a caring daughter and daughter-in-law, and a valuable friend. Throughout her life, Catherine remained a source of joy and comfort to her family, friends and colleagues throughout the world. Although Catherine is no longer with us, her wonderful memories and her courage remains a source of strength and inspiration for the rest of us. Her battle continues as a part of the Many Beautiful Minds endowment organized by the National Alliance for Mental Illness .


Dept. Of Terrestrial Magnetism



Planet search


Many Beautiful Minds

National Alliance for Mental Illness

Sash Hier-Majumder

Buckets of Rain