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Distinguished Astronomers Elected to National Academy of Sciences

04 May 2010

AAS Press Release

May 4, 2010

Rick Fienberg
AAS Press Officer
+1 202-328-2010 x116

Maureen O’Leary
NAS Director of Public Information
+1 202-334-2138

Four members of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. The election was held on Tuesday, April 27th, during the 147th annual meeting of the Academy. Election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or engineer.

The NAS is a private, nonprofit organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. It was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation signed by Abraham Lincoln that calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology. Additional information about the Academy and its members is available online.

AAS members newly elected to the NAS:

Neil Gehrels
Chief, Astroparticle Physics Laboratory
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD

Gehrels has made pioneering contributions to the field of gamma-ray astronomy, in part through his leadership of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and Swift missions to study active galactic nuclei and gamma-ray bursts. “It was a delightful surprise to receive the early-morning call on April 27th,” says Gehrels. “It has been a great adventure working on CGRO and Swift, and I gratefully acknowledge the expert teams of scientists and engineers at NASA and the universities who made those missions possible.”

Gary A. Glatzmaier
Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences
University of California, Santa Cruz, CA

Glatzmaier has developed 3D computer models that he and his colleagues and students have used to simulate convection and magnetic-field generation in stars like the Sun, in giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn, and in terrestrial planets like the Earth. Glatzmaier produced the first dynamically consistent computer simulations of the geodynamo in Earth’s fluid outer core that generates our planet’s magnetic field. His models help explain reversals of the field seen in the geologic record. “The 6 a.m. phone call from the NAS was a great way of starting the day,” says Glatzmaier, “and the steady flow of good wishes via e-mail from so many of my colleagues during the rest of that day was wonderful.”

Victoria M. Kaspi
Professor of Physics
McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Kaspi specializes in observations of neutron stars. She has done the bulk of her work at radio and X-ray energies, using a variety of ground- and space-based telescopes. Among particularly interesting discoveries that she and her students have made include glitches from magnetars, bursts from anomalous X-ray pulsars, discoveries of several particularly noteworthy radio pulsars, as well as a novel test of General Relativity using the double pulsar. “I'm floored and overwhelmed by this incredible honor,” says Kaspi. “To be recognized by such an accomplished cohort for doing what I love feels almost too great to be true.”

Jonathan I. Lunine
Professor of Planetary Science and Physics
University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ

Lunine is at the forefront of research into planet formation, evolution, and habitability. He has made seminal contributions to understanding the origin and evolution of the satellites of the outer planets. He was the first to recognize the importance of mixed ethane and methane liquids on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan and pioneered modeling of the cloudy atmospheres of brown dwarfs. Lunine is currently on leave from the University of Arizona and is Professor of Physics at the University of Rome, Italy. In reaction to his election Lunine says, “I am honored and humbled to be asked to join the National Academy of Sciences and particularly gratified at the recognition of the progress being made in our understanding of the outer solar system.”

“I know I speak for all 7,000 of our members when I say these honors are richly deserved,” says AAS Executive Officer Kevin B. Marvel. “I also offer hearty congratulations to Michel G. Mayor, professor of astronomy at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, on his election as a foreign associate of the Academy.” Mayor is a leading expert on the detection and characterization of planets orbiting Sun-like stars.

Since 1863, the nation’s leaders have often turned to the National Academies for advice on the scientific and technological issues that frequently pervade policy decisions. Most of the institution’s science policy and technical work is conducted by its operating arm, the National Research Council, created expressly for this purpose. These non-profit organizations provide a public service by working outside the framework of government to ensure independent advice on matters of science, technology, and medicine. They enlist committees of the nation’s top scientists, engineers, and other experts, all of whom volunteer their time to study specific concerns. The results of their deliberations have inspired some of America’s most significant and lasting efforts to improve the health, education, and welfare of the population. The Academy’s service to government has become so essential that Congress and the White House have issued legislation and executive orders over the years that reaffirm its unique role.

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The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,000 also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is an honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. The Academy has approximately 2,100 members and 400 foreign associates, of whom nearly 200 have won Nobel Prizes. Members and foreign associates of the Academy are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.