Katherine Freese was born in Freiburg, Germany. Her family emigrated to the United States before her first birthday. Her father is Ernst Freese, a molecular biologist. Her uncle is Ekkehard Bautz, a retired molecular biologist and chair of the institute of Molecular Genetics at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Her cousin Anja Freese is a German actor with homes in Los Angeles and Berlin. Her brother Andrew Freese is the Chief of Neurosurgery at Brandywine Hospital. She was the second woman receive a B.A. in physics from Princeton University. She received her M.A. in physics from Columbia University in 1981, and her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1984. The first postdoctoral fellowship she received was at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The second postdoctoral fellowship she earned was at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at Santa Barbara. This was followed by a Presidential Fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley. She became an assistant professor at MIT in 1987 and taught there until 1991. During her teaching at MIT, Katherine received a SLOAN Foundation Fellowship, and also an NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award. In 1991 she moved to the University of Michigan, where she taught as a George Eugene Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics. She was married to Fred Adams, an astrophysicist, for ten years. They had one son together.
Katherine Freese is a theoretical astrophysicist. She is currently a professor of physics at the University of Texas at Austin, where she holds the Jeff and Gail Kodosky Endowed Chair in Physics. Notably, in her scientific career, she contributed early research into dark energy and dark matter. She was one of the first people to propose a way of discovering dark matter, through indirect detection. Her idea that the wind of dark matter particles interact with Earth as it moves through the Milky Way is being researched in experiments across the world. She has extensively researched Massive Compact Halo Objects as well as Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. She first proposed Cardassian Expansion, a model of the universe in which dark energy is replaced by a modification to Einstein’s Equations. More recently, Dr. Freese has proposed a new type of star, called a dark star, which is fueled by the annihilation of dark matter, rather than by typical star fusion. She has also worked extensively on the beginnings of the universe, searching for a successful inflationary model as a beginning of the Big Bang. Her research also involves the ultimate fate of life in the universe, and the ultimate fate of the universe itself.
Dr. Freese has been awarded several visiting professorships. In 1997, Dr. Freese served as a Senior Program Officer at the Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate at the National Research Council in Washington, D.C. In 1999 she was a Visiting Professor at the Max Planck Institute für Physik in Munich. In 2002 Dr. Freese was a Visiting Professor at the Institute for Strings, Cosmology, and Astroparticle Physics at Columbia University. She was the Visiting Miller Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in 2007; and in 2008 she was a Visiting Professor at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, CA. Then she was a Visiting Professor at The University of Texas, Austin in 2011. In 2012 she was Visiting Professor at Caltech and at CERN, Geneva.
On top of all these university appointments, Dr. Freese served on many advisory panels and committees. She was a Member of the Board of the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara from 2000-2003; General Member of the Board of the Aspen Center for Physics from 1993-2003; a member of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Advisory Committee (mandated by Congress) from 2003-2008; the Dark Matter Scientific Advisory Group in 2007. Dr. Freese has served as Member of the Executive Board and General Councillor of the American Physical Society. She is a Member of the International Advisory Board for the Oskar Klein Center for Cosmoparticle Physics in Stockholm, Sweden.
In 2019, Dr. Freese was awarded the 2019 Julius Edgar Lilienfeld Prize from the American Physical Society “For ground-breaking research at the interface of cosmology and particle physics, and her tireless efforts to communicate the excitement of physics to the general public.” This year she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.