Bethany Ehlmann to receive honorary degree at WashU’s 163rd Commencement

Bethany Ehlmann to receive honorary degree at WashU’s 163rd Commencement

Washington University in St. Louis will award five honorary degrees during its 163rd Commencement Monday, May 13.

Bethany L. Ehlmann, WashU alumna, Rhodes Scholar and professor of planetary science and the Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair and director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies at the California Institute of Technology, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree. She will address the Washington University Class of 2024 as the Alumni Speaker at the A&S Recognition Ceremony on May 12.


Ehlmann’s research focuses on the mineralogy and chemistry of planetary surfaces, remote sensing and astrobiology. Her primary focus is unraveling Mars’ environmental history and understanding water in the solar system. She has been committed to advancing scientific understanding of the solar system and pioneering approaches to remote sensing since her undergraduate years on the Danforth Campus.

Ehlmann serves as the principal investigator of Lunar Trailblazer, a NASA mission focused on mapping the form, distribution and abundance of water on the Moon and understanding the lunar water cycle. She is a key contributor to several high-profile Mars missions and is a co-investigator for the EMIT space station-based imaging spectrometer. She is currently working to propose instrument and mission concepts for Europa, Enceladus, Venus, the Moon and asteroids.

In addition to her scientific research, Ehlmann is active in policy and outreach. She is president of the nonprofit Planetary Society and has served on National Academy of Sciences panels to develop national priorities for space science.

She generously supports opportunities for students to develop relevant skills for research in the space sciences and other pursuits. 

Originally from Tallahassee, Fla., she earned her bachelor’s degree at WashU in 2004, with majors in earth and planetary sciences and in environmental studies and a minor in mathematics, all in Arts & Sciences. She earned Master of Science degrees from the University of Oxford in environmental change and management in 2005 and in geography in 2007 as a Rhodes Scholar, and a master’s and a doctorate in geological sciences in 2010 as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Brown University.


READ about all the honorary degree recipients