Thomas J. Ahrens (1936–2010)



[1] Thomas J. Ahrens, a leader in the study of high-pressure shock wave and planetary impact phenomena, died at his home in Pasadena, Calif., on 24 November 2010 at the age of 74. He was the California Institute of Technology's Fletcher Jones Professor of Geophysics, emeritus since 2005 but professionally active to the end. He had been president of AGU's Tectonophysics section, editor of Journal of Geophysical Research, founding member of both the Mineral and Rock Physics and Study of the Earth's Deep Interior focus groups, and editor—more like key driving force—for AGU's Handbook of Physical Constants. Tom was a pioneer in experimental and numerical studies of the effects of projectiles hitting a target at velocities exceeding the speed of sound (hypervelocity impact), arguably the most important geophysical process in the formation, growth, and, in many cases, surface evolution of planets. As a professor at Caltech, he established the foremost university laboratory for shock wave experiments, where students and research associates from around the world pursued basic research in geophysics, planetary science, and other disciplines. Previously, high-pressure shock experiments were conducted primarily in national laboratories, where they were initially associated with the development of nuclear weapons.