Christopher T. Russell

2003 John Adam Fleming Medal Winner

University of California, Los Angeles

Christopher T. Russell was awarded the Fleming Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 10 December 2003, in San Francisco, California. The medal honors “original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences.”


“Christopher T. Russell of the University of California at Los Angeles has an unequaled record of scientific accomplishment in space physics. His research covers almost all areas of the field, but the emphasis has been on the physics of planetary magnetospheres, including that of Earth, and their interaction with the solar wind. His appetite, energy, and enthusiasm for space physics are of legendary proportions. His bibliography lists more than 300 first-authored papers, and a total of more than 1000. This large body of work has been, and continues to be, essential to the development of space physics as we know it today. Chris is also a very active participant in the international scientific community and has devoted an enormous amount of time, thought, and energy to building and supporting infrastructure for our science.

“Notably, Chris was one of the first to recognize and appreciate fully the importance of Dungey’s suggestion that the dynamic evolution of Earth’s magnetosphere is controlled by magnetic reconnection. In a series of landmark papers beginning in the early 1970s he and his colleagues explored the many different ways in which reconnection would manifest itself in magnetospheric phenomena. Out of that exploration came papers that helped establish the importance of a strong and prolonged southward directed solar wind magnetic field for eroding the dayside magnetosphere and for producing geomagnetic storms; explanations for the diurnal and semiannual variations of geomagnetic activity and for asymmetric polar cap convection; a basic model for magnetospheric substorms that is still fiercely debated today; and the discovery of flux transfer events. The latter not only provided long-sought direct evidence for reconnection at Earth’s magnetopause, but also radically revised the way we think about the reconnection process.

“The above provides a small, but important, sample of the reach and impact of his science. Chris has also published on the interaction of the solar wind with the Moon and with every planet except Pluto, as well as with asteroids, comets, and ephemeral dust trails. His work has helped reveal the physical structure of collisionless shocks and the nature of planetary magnetopauses. He has discovered flux ropes at Venus and has published extensively on ULF waves in planetary magnetospheres, on the intrinsic magnetic fields of the Moon, Venus, and Mars, on lightning on Venus and Earth, on substorms at Mercury and Jupiter, and on a myriad of other topics, including the ridiculous and the sublime. He has created new coordinate systems, new data analysis techniques, new concepts, new missions, new ways of doing space science, and new space scientists, all the while maintaining a keen sense of humor.

“Chris has served as the principal investigator for magnetometer experiments on four space missions and has overall responsibility for the success of the upcoming Dawn asteroid mission. He has previously received honors from the RAS, the AAAS, COSPAR, and the AGU. His exceptional and unique research achievements and technical leadership in space physics and planetary magnetospheres make him a most deserving recipient of this year’s John Adam Fleming Medal.”

—JACK GOSLING, Los Alamos National Laboratory, University of California, New Mex.


“I am very pleased to receive this award named for a fellow geomagnetician, John Adam Fleming, who was once very influential but is now somewhat less known. For those interested in his career, I refer you to an excellent biography written by Merle Tuve and published in the National Academy’s Biographical Memoirs in 1967. Fleming was ‘an indefatigable worker and a prolific writer.’ He served as General Secretary of AGU for a full solar magnetic cycle, or 22 years. In addition to geomagnetism, the Fleming Medal recognizes work in atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences. Awards, however, are often defined more by the recipients than any other factor. The 35 men who have received this award before me include some of the most brilliant I have ever met. They also include the only scientist who has ever hit me, but that story is better left for another time.

“I have many people to thank for helping me during my career, but none more than my mother, who at 89 years of age is still a very bright woman. She, like myself, was strongly attracted to science, but her father would not allow a young girl to pursue such a career. She was directed to study to be a secretary. Fortunately times have changed, and last year in the United States more doctorates were awarded to women than men.

“We have many excellent female scientists in our profession, and I have been lucky enough to work with some of the best. Among these have been Marcia Neugebauer, Joan Feynman, Margaret Kivelson, and Janet Luhmann. But where are names like these in the list of AGU Fleming medalists? Where are the Carols, Nancys, Patricias, Michelles, and Peggys? It is time for AGU awards to become more inclusive. One way to begin this process is to rename some of the awards. For example, Marcia Neugebauer would be just as appropriate a role model for today’s scientists as John Adam Fleming was for scientists in the 1960s.

“In closing, let me stress that I am very grateful for being selected for this award, but I would have also been quite happy to wait while some of my equally deserving colleagues were honored.”

—C. T. RUSSELL, University of California, Los Angeles