3 NASA Goddard scientists receive special honors

February 24, 2009

GREENBELT, Md. - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. is the home of many award winning scientists, and this year is no different. This month, Climatologist Claire L. Parkinson, Astrophysicist Marc Kuchner and Astrophysicist Neil Gehrels received recognition of their achievements.

Claire L. Parkinson has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering for leadership in understanding sea-ice changes through satellite measurements and for leading NASA's Earth-observing Aqua satellite mission. Claire is a senior scientist and Aqua Project Scientist in the Cryospheric Sciences Branch at Goddard. She's worked at Goddard since July 1978, with a research emphasis on using satellite data to examine polar sea ice and climate change. She has also developed a computer model of sea ice, done fieldwork in both the Arctic and the Antarctic, including at the North Pole itself, and is the lead author of an atlas of Arctic sea ice from satellite data and a co-author of two other sea ice atlases, plus a co-editor of two books on climate change.

"Election to the National Academies is among the highest professional distinctions and a great recognition of Claire's stature in the community and research achievements," said Nicholas White, Director, NASA Sciences and Exploration Directorate at Goddard.

Outside of her Goddard work, she has written a book on the history of science and twice has won bronze medals in swimming at the U.S. National Senior Games/the Senior Olympics. She is a member of the Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a Fellow of both the American Meteorological Society and Phi Beta Kappa.

Marc Kuchner recently received the 2009 SPIE Early Career Achievement Award. SPIE is an international society advancing light-based research. This award is in recognition of Marc's many outstanding achievements which have greatly facilitated the detection and characterization of extra-solar planets. "Marc's invention and refinement of new telescope coronagraph masks provided astronomers with innovative tools needed to detect planets directly around bright stars," White said.

Marc is an Astrophysicist in the Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics at Goddard and his research interests include: Direct Detection of Extrasolar Planets; Planet Formation; Planet-Disk Interactions; Coronagraphy; Interferometry; Debris Disks and Protoplanetary Disks; and the Solar System. One mission concept he's working on is the Terrestrial Planet Finder, a large space telescope designed to find habitable Earth-like planets orbiting nearby stars. Marc's coronagraph designs are also slated for use on the James Webb Space Telescope.

Outside of NASA, Marc is an accomplished songwriter and musician. Kuchner writes country and pop songs. Two of his songs received airplay in 2008, and his song "Start Now" was chosen as the best demo of 2008 by Music Connection Magazine. Kuchner's songs appear on the albums of rising country stars Taryn Cross, Chelesea Music, Brynn Marie, and many others.

SPIE also awarded their 2009 SPIE George W. Goddard award to a NASA Goddard astrophysicist: Neil Gehrels. "This award is in recognition of Neil's pioneering contributions in opening the gamma-ray spectral window as its own astronomical discipline through his leadership of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and the Swift Mission," White said.

Neil is the Chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at Goddard. Gehrels serves as principal investigator of NASA's Swift mission, and deputy project scientist of NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope satellite. Since its launch on November 20, 2004, Swift has greatly advanced astronomers' understanding of stupendously powerful stellar explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. Fermi launched in June 2008, and has already discovered a dozen new pulsars. During the 1990's, Gehrels served as the Project Scientist for the Compton Observatory which was the second of NASA's four Great Observatories and pioneered observations of the gamma-ray sky. Gehrels was recently awarded the Henry Draper Medal by the National Academy of Sciences, Washington.

Neil's wife, Ellen Williams, is a professor of physics in the surface physics group at the University of Maryland. He has two children, Tommy and Emily, born in 1987 and 1990. His other interests include mountaineering and music.
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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is home to the nation's largest organization of combined scientists and engineers dedicated to learning and sharing their knowledge of the Earth, sun, the solar system, and universe. The center's main campus is located in Greenbelt, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The center is named after American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard.

For more information and photos of the awardees, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/goddard/news/topstory/2009/three_honors.html

For more information about Neil Gehrels, visit: http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/Neil.Gehrels/

For more information about Marc Kuchner, visit: http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/Marc.Kuchner/home.html

For more information about Claire Parkinson, visit: http://eospso.gsfc.nasa.gov/directory/eospso_members/c_parkinson.php

NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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