2000 Year in Review: Science Faculty, Students Reach for Stars in Creative Endeavors

Lori Stiles
Nov. 30, 2000

Capping this year for awards, Willis E. Lamb won the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor. Lamb, Regents' Professor of physics and optical sciences, won a 1955 Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the structure of hydrogen.

Lamb joined the UA in 1974. President Clinton awarded the medal to Lamb for his great contributions in quantum and laser physics. (The UA's other winner of this prize, the late Carl Shipp Marvel of chemistry, received the medal in 1986. )

Others who this year received major national awards include chemist Jean-Luc Bredas, awarded the Belgium National Fund for Scientific Research (a $70,000 prize given twice each decade) and astronomer Roger Angel, elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

The UA's supercomputer, called "Super," made the prestigious TOP500 list of the most powerful supercomputers on the planet. Of the top 500 computers, 233 are located within the United States. The UA computer ranks 389 on the world list - and 16th among the 20 supercomputers listed at U.S. universities. It is an important achievement for the UA and critically important if the University is to remain a top Research I university.

The National Drosophila Species Stock Center, the primary source of diverse species of living Drosophila flies used by scientists around the world for genetics research,
moved to the UA to become part of the Center for Insect Science. In addition, center director Therese Markow landed a five-year, $3.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to aid young researchers in the life sciences in their careers while simultaneously boosting life sciences education in a partner effort with Pima Community College.

Several groups of faculty and students across campus intensified their field campaigns and laboratory research this year as NASA launched more satellites in its Earth Science Enterprise mission. Terra, launched in January, is the flagship in a 15-year program to collect information about Earth that will help scientists unravel the complexities of the changing global environment and its impact on our planet. And Eo-1, launched just weeks ago, carries the latest in remote-sensing gear. UA researchers involved are in atmospheric sciences, optical sciences, hydrology and water resources, electrical and computer engineering, the tree-ring lab, and soil, water and environmental sciences.

Tree-ring scientists and climatologists organized a first-ever gathering of climate experts and fire managers from across the nation to plan for what promised to be - and was - one of the most severe summer fire seasons in recent history. When it was over, tree-ring lab Director Tom Swetnam in Congressional testimony urged forest managers to more carefully consider climate forecasts before using prescribed burns.

Other stories covered widely in the media include atmospheric science Professor Eric Betteron's research on the growing environmental threat posed by the chemical sodium azide in automobile airbags, and speech and hearing scientist Jeanette Hoit's work on a new technique that gives people on mechanical ventilators new powers of speech.

In astronomy and space science, UA personnel continue to make impressive news-making achievements and discoveries.

George Rieke's team at Steward Observatory in March delivered their unique far-infrared wavelength camera to NASA for launch on the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) in July 2002. Days ago, NASA announced that UA astronomers Robert Kennicutt and Michael Meyer will head two of six science teams granted millions of dollars and thousands of hours of observing time under the SIRTF Legacy Science Science Program. Kennicutt's $3 million or more grant is for studying star formation in the interstellar medium in 75 nearby galaxies. Meyer's $2.4 million grant is for studying dust around stars that gives rise to planets.

The UA/Smithsonian Institution dedicated its 6.5-meter MMT telescope on Mount Hopkins, Ariz. It is currently the largest single-mirror telescope on the North American continent. The Carnegie Institution, UA and other partners in the 6.5-meter Magellan I telescope in Chile will dedicate that telescope this month. The Mirror Lab produced both giant mirrors - and both already have returned stunning images of the universe. The Mirror Lab cast a perfect 8.4-meter mirror, the second such glass for the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham.

Also early this year, astronomers used the UA/Max Planck Submillimeter Telescope on Mount Graham, equipped with a Harvard-Smithsonian detector, in detecting the shortest-ever radio emissions from Earth.

Spacewatch Project founders Tom Gehrels and Robert McMillan in September realized a 20-year dream - their hope for a 72-inch telescope that electronically scans the skies for asteroids. Since 1980, Spacewatch has relied on a 36-inch telescope on Kitt Peak in discovering 231 new asteroids - and, this year, a new moon of Jupiter. The Spacewatch team's 72-inch telescope is now the largest telescope in the world dedicated full time to asteroid discovery and astrometry. Plans are to upgrade the 36-inch telescope next year.

Planetary sciences faculty at the Lunar and Planetary Lab are having a banner year.
The Cassini Imaging Team led by Carolyn Porco began taking magnificent images and movies of Jupiter as the spacecraft flys by that planet on its way to Saturn. Alfred McEwen and his team have processed stunning pictures of Jupiter's moon, Io, taken by cameras on the Galileo spacecraft. And Bill Boynton, as a member of the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous science team, has discovered in X-ray/gamma ray results that
asteroid Eros is a far more primitive object than thought. The NEAR-Shoemaker spacecraft, the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid, has been studying Eros since Feb. 14, 2000.


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