Skip to content

Betty Pierazzo

May 16, 2011

Betty PierazzoElisabetta Pierazzo, better known as “Betty,” has passed away.  A memorial page has been set up on Facebook to remember her life and friendship.  Please visit the Memorial for Betty Pierazzo page and/or leave comments here. 

She will be missed. 

Edited 18 May 2011: The following was forwarded to us by the Planetary Science Institute. 

Elisabetta (Betty) Pierazzo, 1963-2011

Elisabetta Pierazzo, Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute,
died at her home in Tucson, Arizona, on May 15. She was 47.

Betty was an expert in the area of impact modeling throughout the solar
system, as well as an expert on the astrobiological and environmental
effects of impacts on Earth and Mars. Her work ranged widely, from providing
detailed insights into the Chicxulub impact that caused the extinction of
the dinosaurs to putting constraints on the thickness of the ice shell of
Jupiter’s moon Europa. She was interested in the rise of life and explored
the delivery of organics to planets and Europa by comets as well as the
creation of subsurface hydrothermal systems by impacts that may have been
favorable sites for life on Mars.

She was also an expert on Meteor Crater in Arizona and made several
appearances on national and international broadcasts of programs including
National Geographic specials, explaining the formation of this well-known
structure. Betty was innovative, rigorous and systematic in her approach to
science. She recognized the need for benchmarking and validating the
different complex numerical codes to model impact and explosion cratering,
organizing and leading a community effort to accomplish this major task.

In addition to her science, Betty passionately promoted science education
and public outreach. She took time away from her successful research career
to teach undergraduates at the University of Arizona, she developed
interactive websites and impact rock and meteorite kits for classroom use,
as well as created professional development workshops for elementary and
middle school science teachers.

Betty arrived in the United States in 1989 from Italy and the following year
attended graduate school at the Department of Planetary Sciences at the
University of Arizona. She handled the difficulties of living in a foreign
country by opening her house and her kitchen to others. She received her
Ph.D. in 1997. The quality of her graduate work was recognized by the
University of Arizona with the Gerard P. Kuiper Memorial Award. She
continued at the University of Arizona as a Research Associate, and in 2002
joined the Planetary Science Institute as a Research Scientist. She was
promoted to Senior Scientist in 2007.

Betty was an active member of the planetary community. She served on
numerous NASA review panels, was an associate editor of Meteoritics and
Planetary Sciences, reviewed papers for numerous scientific journals, served
as organizer of workshops and meetings on impact cratering held around the
world, and was an organizer of the 2007 Meteoritical Society Meeting held in
Tucson, Arizona.

Betty was noted for the intensity with which she approached both life and
work. Whether it was in the office, the classroom, on the volleyball court,
the soccer field, or dance floor, her enthusiasm and joy in the activity was
irresistible. She was cherished by very many people for her staunch
friendship and support. She inspired countless people as a colleague,
teacher, mentor and friend. Her life was even more brightened with her
marriage to Keith Powell in 2007.

Over the past six months, Betty battled a rare form of cancer. She dealt
with it aggressively, and never let it overwhelm her. She was always looking
towards the future. In the last week of her life, in the midst of
chemotherapy, she was grading class papers, working on research papers,
writing reviews and preparing education proposals with her colleagues, all
the while finding time to spend precious moments with her family and
friends. She was ultimately and suddenly struck down by a pulmonary

Her loss is great to all those who knew her and worked with her. Hers is a
great loss to the Planetary Science Institute and to our profession. We are
grateful to her husband, Keith, and to her family for the time she did have
with us.

A viewing will take place Thursday, May 19 at 5 p.m. at Evergreen Mortuary,
3015 N. Oracle Road, Tucson, Arizona. Funeral services will be held Friday,
May 20 at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Chapel at 5150 N. Valley View

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Erin Kraal permalink
    May 26, 2011 3:53 pm

    I was really had to hear this news. Are there plans for some sort of scholarship fund, award, etc in honor of Betty. I would be happy to contribute.

  2. Elisabetta Boaretto permalink
    May 17, 2011 5:47 am

    I met Betty about 30 years ago, when we were both students in the physics dept in Padua.
    We had the same supervisor, Silvia. I can say that Betty was always happy.
    All the memories I have of Betty, have smile.
    Thank you Betty, I will miss you


  3. Andy Rivkin permalink
    May 16, 2011 12:27 pm

    I met Betty 20 years ago when I first entered graduate school. We finished at the same time, serving as dissertation buddies. I have literally too many memories of Betty and with Betty to count, covering many states and nations, our weddings and those of our friends, and other activities from hiking to dancing to proposal writing (and with her as PI, proposal winning).

    It was always a pleasure to see Betty and catch up whether in Tucson or at a conference, and she was always full of life. For many of us in planetary science, we have lost more than a colleague or a friend, we have lost someone we grew up with and a family member.

  4. Jani Radebaugh permalink
    May 16, 2011 12:07 pm

    Betty has been one of my top mentors in planetary science since I first started graduate school. I have always been impressed by her positivity, rationality, and care of herself and others. Her rigorous approach to research inspired and challenged me. Parties at her house were always full of amazing food she had, seemingly casually, put together over the course of the few days prior. I attempt to recreate some of those masterpieces occasionally, to a still satisfying but somehow lacking finish. The atmosphere of these parties and her home in general was fun and inviting and brought interesting people to her door ready to be buoyed up by her bright spirit. I was amazed and inspired by her great strength, resolve and optimism in fighting her illness. She thought more of her current research and class responsibilities and the future than she did the difficult present. She left us too soon, I will miss her greatly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: