Remembering Adam Showman

Adam P. Showman

This brilliant planetary scientist was the world’s expert on the dynamics of hot gas giant atmospheres.

Memorial via Zoom

Saturday, April 4, 2020, 1:00p.m. MST

Give to the endowment for the Adam P. Showman Distinguished Visiting Lectureship.


Fortney, J.J. Adam P. Showman. Nat Astron (2020)
In Memoriam: Adam Showman

Adam P. Showman passed away unexpectedly on March 16, 2020, at his home in Tucson, AZ. His untimely passing has been felt widely in the international planetary science community which has lost an outstanding theorist, dedicated teacher of many graduate students, and a sought-after collaborator to a world-wide network of exoplanet astronomers.

Adam Showman was born on October 9, 1968 in Palo Alto, CA. He studied physics at Stanford University, where he earned a B.S. in 1991. He earned a Ph.D. at Caltech in 1999, with a dissertation on the atmosphere of Jupiter as well as the geophysics of its largest moon Ganymede. After two short postdoc stints at the University of Louisville and NASA Ames, Dr. Showman joined the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona as an Assistant Professor in 2001; he was named full Professor in 2012. He was recently named a Galileo Circle Fellow of the University of Arizona (2018) and a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (2019).

During his career, Dr. Showman directly advised eleven graduate students and mentored many more across the disciplines of planetary science, atmospheric sciences and geosciences. He was a renowned teacher who enjoyed explaining to his students the complicated details of planetary physics and hammering out ideas to solve research problems. He developed eight different courses in the planetary sciences, including two completely new graduate courses, with course notes that are treasured by his students. His early pioneering research on the atmospheric dynamics of exoplanets (Showman & Guillot, 2002, Astron. & Astrophys. 385:166-180) has been the paradigm of hot gas giant atmospheric circulation models ever since. This work showed that the difference between the day and night side on hot Jupiters would drive strong eastward equatorial winds, comparable to or greater than the speed of sound in the medium. Showman and his collaborators worked out in detail the theoretical predictions that were spectacularly verified in subsequent observations, profoundly shaping the field. Showman extended his innovative theoretical models beyond hot gas giant planets, to tidally-locked and fast-rotating planets of smaller sizes and cooler temperatures as well as to the larger and warmer brown dwarfs. He was deeply involved in the exoplanet science community, collaborating with many observers to interpret their observations of exoplanet atmospheres and working with theorists to advance modeling techniques. He served the planetary science community in many professional roles, including as Editor of the international planetary science journal, Icarus.

Dr. Showman also made notable contributions to our understanding of atmospheric circulation in the four giant planets in our own solar system and of the geophysics of the Galilean satellites. Showman and collaborators (Kaspi, Flierl & Showman, 2009, Icarus 202:525-542) used an anelastic general circulation model to explore the deep winds on Jupiter, where density varies by more than four orders of magnitude from the atmosphere to the interior. They find that the winds are aligned with the rotation axis but decay gradually with depth. Their predictions were verified by the Juno mission, which has measured the higher harmonics of Jupiter’s gravity field and has shown that the zonal winds extend 3000 km below the visible clouds, a major breakthrough in planetary science. On the icy Galilean satellites, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, Showman’s work encompassed interior thermal structures and their interplay with the orbital dynamics (the formation of a water ocean in Ganymede and implications for the magnetic field detected by the Galileo Orbiter, Showman et al., 1997, Icarus 129:367-383), the peculiar tectonics of Ganymede (graben formation, Showman et al., 2004, Icarus 172:625-640), the putative convection in Europa’s ice shell (Showman & Han, 2004, JGR-Planets 109:E01010), and the unstable lithosphere of Enceladus (Bland, Beyer & Showman, 2007, Icarus 192:92-105). Dr. Showman was equally in command of both gas giant atmospheric dynamics and geophysical fluid dynamics, an astonishing combination of expertise widely admired by his colleagues.

Students and colleagues alike knew Dr. Showman as a fount of knowledge and ideas which he shared generously and widely. He was a friend to many who fondly remember his spirit of adventure and abiding curiosity. In his teenage years, after a family trip to China, he developed a fascination for Chinese culture; he travelled frequently to China and became proficient in the Mandarin language. Dr. Showman is survived by his daughter, Arwen, his brother, Ken, and his parents, Pete and Dinah Showman.

Renu Malhotra(1) and Andrew P. Ingersoll(2)

(1)Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, The University of Arizona,Tucson, AZ
(2)Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences, Caltech, Pasadena, CA

(text prepared for Icarus)

Adam was always a good sport when it came to LPL traditions like the holiday party graduate student skits, including perhaps most (in)famously, Showman Style.


***Laura Wasylenki replied on  

Oh no! Just heard this news. Adam and I didn't know each other at Stanford, but were there at the same time and later shared many common memories. He was a good friend during grad school at Caltech, and he always made me laugh with some clever, crazy idea or joke. I have seen him only intermittently in the past 20 years, but I will still really miss him. Great scientist, great human being. 

***Yolande Serra replied on  

I was very sorry and shocked to hear of Adam's passing.  My husband and I used to go on hikes with Adam, his wife Lija and their daughter Arwin, who is my daughter's age, back when I was at the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at UA and living in Tucson.  We moved away five years ago and we've not kept in touch.  Adam was a kind hearted and very gifted scientist.  My heart goes out to his family at this difficult time.  

***Brian Jackson replied on  

I consider myself infinitely fortunate to have known Adam and to have attended several of his planetary science courses. He combined an intimidating scientific insight with encouragement that made you feel you could also contribute to science. His approach to teaching continues to inspire my own instruction -- rigor tempered with empathy and patience.

***E Philip Krider replied on 

Adam was a wonderful scientist and an even better person.  His loss is a major blow to the planetary sciences and the University of Arizona.

***Steven Mullen replied on  

Adam's passing is devastating news. As a beginning Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona, he accepted a joint position with the Department of Atmospheric Sciences and worked to rebuild ATMO when we were threatened with closure in the early oughts. His contributions to our program were critical to our survival and later successes. Adam was a kind, giving soul. Our thoughts go to his family, loved ones, and colleagues. He will be missed by all who knew him.

***Xubin Zeng replied on 

I was shocked and saddened by the news. Adam was a kind, optimistic, and brilliant colleague. Besides outstanding achievements in his field, he contributed to the teaching of advanced atmospheric dynamics in our Department, and helped strengthen the interaction between LPL and our department. This is a big loss for our department, LPL, and our university. My heart goes to his family, and my his soul rest in peace!

***David K. Adams replied on  

I am very sad to hear these news.  My wife and I knew Adam when he arrived at the UofA.  He was so fun, very unique.  A great scientist, but very human and down to earth.

***Jane Showman Benfey replied on  

I remember Adam as a child, a teen, a beloved son and grandson, a dad.  We were proud of him as a scientist, and loved his sense of humor and his playfulness. He was much loved, and will be much missed.

***Jane Showman Benfey replied on 

Adam's family was extremely proud of him as a scientist, but also enchanted by his humor and his joy in life. He was a much loved son, brother, father, uncle,and nephew, and will be terribly missed by all. 

***Fan Xin replied on  

I am very shock and sadden by this news. I'm one of his friend in China. I hope I could express my condolences to his parents and daughter by email. I would appreciate it if someone could help me to connect Pete or Dinah.  My email is  cocotuckwell @ hotmail . com  . Thanks.

***jvriesem replied on  

I loved Adam for his incredible knowledge and wonderful gift of being able to explain it well to anyone. He always treated people with dignity in conversation. Because of all this, he was a fantastic scientist and teacher. He will be missed!  —Jess Vriesema

***Ricardo Hueso A... replied on  

I met Adam Showman in 1998 when we were both young Ph.D. students working on similar topics on two sides of the Atlantic. He was brilliant then and quickly became a great scientist with an original approach to difficult problems, deep knowledge and a broad view of the different topics he mastered. He was always a kind, gentle and open person who with you could always share good moments. I met him many many times over the years and I will miss talking with him about science and anything else. All that we knew him at work will miss him as the brilliant scientist he became and the great person he always was.

***ammcgraw replied on 

For the past 6 years of my life, Adam Showman was a scientist that I looked up to with both awe and appreciation. I had only heard reference to his name and science from others around me during my undergraduate career, painted as a somewhat of a celebrity at first to me. 

My first real Showman experience was at a Division of Planetary Science Conference presentation session. He was the first one to ask questions up at the microphone after every speaker in the session, and he knew what questions to ask each speaker to blow them away, as well as blowing me away. I watched with awe, not only a scientific celebrity in my mind, but also a bold, sharp, engaging scientist.

Moving along into graduate school at the Lunar & Planetary Laboratory, Showman is a professor that I end up taking several graduate classes from. He always made the time for my questions and endless office hours. He was so kind, he was the only professor available by text message to help solve radiative transfer problems! Always making sure that I understood when I really needed help, and for this I have great appreciation.

I considered him a physics mentor in my life, and grateful that I may at least carry those skills learned from him onwards into my planetary science career. As well as his ~200 pages of handwritten notes! They mean so much more than physics notes to me now.

***Daniel Apai and... replied on  

We will miss Adam’s deep curiosity and endless enthusiasm about figuring out how nature works. We collaborated on many projects to understand the atmospheres of exoplanets and brown dwarfs, a field he loved and one that was thoroughly transformed by his studies and insights. He leaves behind a vast scientific legacy.

But Adam was much more than an exceptional scientist: he was a dear friend and a supportive and attentive colleague. As we moved to Tucson, Adam generously invited us for Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family, helping us to feel at home. Of the many shared memories we like to recall a camping trip in 2014 to Mt Lemmon with Adam and Arwen, and our daughter Clara, where we shared s'mores and great stories at the campfire. We will miss him much. Our thoughts are with his family.

Daniel Apai and Ilaria Pascucci

***bramson replied on  

I will never ever forget Adam’s involvement in the LPL grad skits. He taught me that professors can be fun and quirky and relatable - this made a big difference when I started grad school to help me feel comfortable approaching professors, quickening my transition to feeling like a colleague. I am extremely grateful to have taken Adam's planetary atmospheres and tectonics classes, which turned out to be more useful than I would know at the time, and to have been part of the "Showman Style" era of grad skits. My heart goes out to all in his professional network, and most especially his family. -Ali Bramson

***Lisa McFarlane replied on  

I knew Adam for a long time in Tucson.  I think fondly of the times I went out painting with him, the time we went to Bisbee, or the times we went to lunch.  Adam was an amazing person, so accomplished, so smart and so kind.  My favorite story of Adam is far and away the following one:  We were at a local Chinese restaurant in Tucson.  Adam ordered in Chinese.  The waiter was visibly shocked that Adam was able to do so.  Here was this guy that looked not Chinese at all speaking Chinese.  A short while later, from where I was sitting, I could see the waiter and what appeared to be the cook looking at Adam through the window from the Kitchen.  The cook was watching us with rapt attention as the waiter walked up.  I’m pretty sure that there was a hefty wager involved.  The waiter asked Adam a question in Chinese, and Adam answered in Chinese.  The cook let out a very audible and very incredulous gasp.  He could not believe it!  It felt like I was eating with a rock star.  What a fond memory.  Adam was truly an exceptional person. 

***Dave Stevenson replied on  

It was a shock to hear about Adam and he will be much missed. He was memorably lively and distinctive. Adam was an undergrad at Stanford but came to Caltech to do undergrad research with me for one summer. When he arrived, I recognised him out of a crowd (from the back) because of his distinctive blond hair. He subsequently was admtted to grad school by us but then went off to China to teach English for a year . Most of his grad work was with Andy Ingersoll , but he also worked with Renu Malhotra (then a postdoc here) and me on tidal heating in Ganymede (still an unsolved possibility). He also joined a group I led of students who backpacked in the Sierras for days (Mineral King up to Franklin Pass and nearby). 

***Rob Kursinski replied on  

I met Adam in 1992 when we both entered Caltech as graduate students in planetary sciences.  We were both interested in atmospheres.

Adam was very smart and creative, a really nice guy and funny.  We had a few very important personal conversations over the years that certainly steered my life.

I remember going on a double date to Magic Mountain which I believe was his first date with Lijie.

We both ended up at University of Arizona until I left in 2012 for the private sector better suited to accomplishing my visions

I remember some fun times our families spent together with our young kids.

I was principal investigator (PI) and Adam was Deputy PI on our MACO (Mars Atmospheric Climate Observatory) proposal to NASA we developed in 2006-2007.  With the help of Adam’s insight, it received an unusual level of excitement from the NASA science panel but was too technologically ambitious for its time.  We envisioned the same mission orbiting Titan which Adam named TACO, with a smile on his face of course.

He reminded me of this a month ago in an email.  He said he was thinking of a major career change.  We were going to talk more when I was less busy with deadlines, but now he is gone.  Beyond unbelievable.  

I will miss him and our thoughts go out to his family, particularly Arwen.

***Angela Zalucha replied on  

Adam's passing surely was shocking and tragic news.  I'll share a memory I have with Adam: The Division of Planetary Sciences meeting was held in Ithaca, NY in 2008.  The meeting planners had hired a live band for the banquet, and they were playing swing and jazz music.  Adam asked me to dance, and we did for a song.  So we can add dancing to Adam's list of talents!

***Alycia Weinberger replied on  

I first met Adam in the ballroom dance class at Caltech when we were both graduate students.  He was a good dance partner both for his skill and for being a nice guy.  At the time, we were in different fields, but my interests moved closer to his, so I periodically saw him at conferences and meetings.  I appreciated his insights on (exo)planetary atmospheres, and I will miss all he could have contributed to the field, with both his skill and for being a nice guy.