April 12, 2016
LPL Professor Renu Malhotra is one of three University of Arizona faculty members named as Regents' Professors by the Arizona Board of Regents. The title of Regents' Professor is the highest level of recognition bestowed on faculty in the Arizona state university system. It recognizes full professors whose work has garnered national and international distinction; no more than 3 percent of faculty can hold the title at any given time.
Until 25 years ago, only eight planets had been discovered in human history. Today, eight are discovered on a monthly basis. Renu Malhotra, the Louise Foucar Marshall Science Research Professor in the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, anticipated this breakthrough with her 1993 paper demonstrating that Pluto's peculiar orbit (very eccentric and tilted relative to the ecliptic plane where the other planets lie) resulted from the outward migration of Neptune. No longer could we hold to our textbook picture of a well-ordered solar system, static under the firm direction of Newton and his laws. Malhotra demonstrated that those laws mediated subtle interactions that over time could yield large changes in the configuration of planetary systems. These processes not only explain the structure of our solar system, but help scientists better understand the dynamics of planetary systems other than our own. Although others had hinted at the possibilities of planetary migration, it is characteristic of Malhotra that she provided the definitive proof of its importance and did so with such clarity that its reality was accepted universally. The wider scientific community has expressed its appreciation of her work by her election last year to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and to the National Academy of Sciences. Malhotra believes that "advisers should always be an example to their students of what it means to have that life in you about your field, an example of what it means to live science."