In Memoriam: Geophysicist Louise Kellogg Remembered for Visionary Science, Kindness

Photo of the late UC Davis geophysicist Louise Kellogg

Louise Kellogg, a leading geophysicist known as a compassionate mentor and advocate for open science, died of cancer April 15 at her home in Vacaville. She was 59.

Kellogg, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science, worked on a planetary scale, developing 3D modeling tools to visualize the flows within Earth’s mantle that shape our planet and its environment. She contributed significantly to our understanding of Earth’s interior, both through her research and as a leader in numerous multidisciplinary collaborations.

Her colleagues say she brought her vision for a better future to each of these projects, promoting novel approaches as well as the inclusion of diverse participants.

“Louise was a great scientist, a broad thinker capable of translating her insights to new fields, a kind and wise mentor, and a tireless advocate for diversity in the sciences," said Mike Oskin, professor and chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. "She was a pioneer and a compassionate leader."

Visualizing science

Kellogg joined the earth science community during a technological revolution that enabled researchers to collect enormous amounts of data about our planet. She specialized in making sense of these observations, in time and length scales from atoms to solar systems, by developing and applying scientific models and through the visualization of the results of models and data.

“Louise had a deep appreciation for the importance of ‘seeing’ science,” said Dawn Sumner, UC Davis professor of earth and planetary sciences and longtime friend of Kellogg. “She loved the beauty of well-designed graphs and diagrams that effectively communicate science, and she foresaw the potential of three-dimensional visualizations for scientific insights.”

In the early 2000s, Kellogg worked with computer scientists on campus to develop a 10-foot by 8-foot room where researchers could use virtual reality to walk around, or go into, places they cannot visit in reality — a 3D image of a patient’s skull, the landscape of a massive landslide, a sequence of earthquakes.

Kellogg’s work in creating and directing this immersive environment, called the Keck Center for Active Visualization in Earth Sciences (KeckCAVES) at UC Davis, led to wide-ranging scientific insights, including ways to rapidly respond to earthquakes, the evolution of ancient microbial communities, past changes in ocean circulation and the dynamics of the Earth’s interior.

The facility earned an international reputation for its 3D visualizations. For example, in 2013, a team of archaeologists and filmmakers secretly visited UC Davis to study a proprietary airborne laser scan (lidar) of dense Honduran rain forest. The KeckCAVES provided a closer look at evidence of ruins hidden under the foliage. In 2015, those ruins were revealed to be a legendary lost city, the “City of the Monkey God.”

Kellogg also participated in collaborations to simulate earthquakes and understand how the crust responds. Colleagues said she played a key role in trans-disciplinary research on the 2010 Haiti earthquake that led to new tools for rapid response to human disasters.

In a seminal study published in Science in 1999, “Compositional Stratification in the Deep Mantle,” Kellogg suggested a “marble cake” model for the evolution and structure of Earth’s interior. She said a “stealth layer” nearly 1,000 miles below the Earth’s surface could explain the mixing and stretching of different kinds of rock.

For eight years, she directed the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics, a collaboration that advances earth science by developing and disseminating software for geophysics and related fields. In 2016, the working group was awarded 260 million core hours on the Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory to model Earth’s magnetic field, as well as magnetic field generation occurring inside Jupiter and the sun.

She was also a founding member of the Cooperative Institute for Dynamic Earth Research (CIDER), which fosters cross-disciplinary research and training to advance earth science.

Most recently, Kellogg was involved with the Deep Carbon Observatory, an international collaboration of more than 1,000 scientists seeking to understand the quantities, movements, forms and origins of carbon in Earth. She led a modeling and visualization forum, directed grant-funded studies, and served on committees overseeing the research program and synthesizing its multidisciplinary findings. 

"The universe of science has lost a shining star, brilliant colleague, and dear friend," said Craig Schiffries, director of the Deep Carbon Observatory. 

Leading by example

Kellogg’s collaborative efforts promoted research addressing challenging deep-Earth problems as well as the education of future and early career Earth scientists, two of her deepest and longest-running passions.

“One of the things that really made her happy about UC Davis was that not only is it a world-class research university, but also a large number of undergraduates are first-generation college students. That was something that really meant a lot to her,” said her husband, Doug Neuhauser.

Kellogg championed women in STEM, providing mentorship to innumerable scientists both directly and as a role model of an outstanding scientist who treated others with respect. “She made people feel valued and intelligent, irrespective of their level of experience or knowledge, and she made special efforts to support early career scientists by promoting recognition of their research,” said Catherine “Katie" Cooper, associate professor of geophysics at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.

“She was such an outstanding person, someone who truly made this world a better place,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, wrote on Twitter.

“We’ve lost a smart, kind, magnificent presence from our field with the passing of Louise Kellogg,” Jennifer Wade, a geologist with the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, said in a tweet. “She was joyful, calm, exuberant, reassuring. A powerhouse. This loss hits hard. Strive to be the role model she was.”

Art-science fusion

As a mentor, Kellogg encouraged her students to keep an open, curious mind by supporting them in their pursuit of broad interests, believing that exploring a diversity of experiences leads to both better mental health and a deeper understanding of one’s own science, colleagues said. She led by example: As a longtime student of modern dance, Kellogg worked with the late dance professor Della Davidson in creating Collapse (suddenly falling down). The show used KeckCAVES data and software to project 3D images of landslides and disappearing beaches onto the stage, where they were manipulated by dancers. The production won the Isadora Dance Award for visual design.

Kellogg was also an active supporter of a local dance company,  joining the Pamela Trokanski Dance Theatre's board of directors in 2002.

"She consistently made her impact felt by being that rare combination of intelligence paired with kindness, and a wonderful smile, all while being totally grounded and centered," said director Pamela Trokanski. "Without a doubt, her energy, support and insight helped bring the company forward into the future."

Augmented Reality Sandbox

With KeckCAVES research scientist Oliver Kreylos, Kellogg and colleagues at the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the Lawrence Hall of Science developed one of the most popular Picnic Day attractions in Earth and Planetary Sciences — the Augmented Reality, or AR, Sandbox.

The AR sandbox combines a real sandbox with a 3D camera, a digital projector, and a powerful computer. It is an innovative tool for teaching people of all ages —from kindergarteners to university students and museum visitors. The plans are freely available, and more than 500 schools, universities and science education centers have since downloaded plans and built their own sandboxes.

‘A scientist filled with humanity’

Born in Connecticut, Kellogg spent most of her childhood in Silver Spring, Maryland, where her father, R. Bruce Kellogg, was a mathematics professor at the University of Maryland.  

Kellogg’s education was multidisciplinary. She earned four degrees from Cornell University in New York — dual bachelor’s degrees in engineering physics and philosophy in 1982, a master’s degree in engineering geology/geophysics in 1985 and a doctorate in geological sciences in 1988.

After a research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology, she arrived at UC Davis in 1990, joining what was then the geology department and now is the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the College of Letters and Science. She would serve a total of 10 years as the department chair — her first stint from 2000 to 2008, and twice filling in as interim chair, in 2013-14 and 2016-17.

During her department leadership, Kellogg led the hiring of more than 40 percent of the 22-member faculty, said Tessa Hill, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory.

She was elected a fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2010 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2012. She was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013.

Kellogg, who had survived breast cancer in 2010, was diagnosed in January with metastatic breast cancer, her husband said.

Campus colleagues in an array of disciplines mourned her loss.

“Louise was a kind and generous university colleague who cared deeply for her friends and students,” Andy Jones, a poet and lecturer in the University Writing Program, said in a tweet. “She was a scientist who was filled with humanity. I’m so sad to read of her passing, and I will treasure the memory of our many conversations.”

Jonathan Eisen, a professor in the Department of Evolution and Ecology, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and the Genome Center, wrote on Twitter that Kellogg was “one of the best of the best in so many ways.”

In addition to her husband, Doug Neuhauser, Kellogg is survived by her mother, Claire Olver of Silver Spring, Maryland; brother David Kellogg, an associate professor of English at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina; and brother Greg Tucker-Kellogg, a professor of biological sciences at the National University of Singapore.

Share your memories of Louise Kellogg

The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences is compiling memories of Kellogg for an online In Memoriam. Email remembrances to

A memorial and reception will be held at 11 a.m., Sunday, June 2 at the campus Buehler Alumni Center. The memorial will be Quaker style, with silence at the beginning and end, and an opportunity for those attending to share. For planning purposes, RSVP to However, organizers say notification isn't required and that all are welcome.

Kathleen Holder and Becky Oskin, content strategists in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science