Daniel N. Baker

Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder

2018 William Bowie Medal Winner

Daniel N. Baker was awarded the 2018 William Bowie Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The medal is for “outstanding contributions for fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.”


Daniel N. Baker’s contribution to our understanding of the Van Allen radiation belts through experiment, discovery, and interpretation of observations is without peer. He has made major scientific contributions across a wide range of topics in space plasma physics and taken a leading role in developing the nation’s space weather program, informing Congress and the public about the potential hazards to humankind of extreme space weather events. His expertise in experimental studies of energetic particle processes in space, their relationship to the radiation belts, and ensuing impacts on technical systems orbiting Earth has been amplified by his leadership at national and academic laboratories and in educating the next generation of space scientists.

Dan has led scientific investigations on numerous NASA missions, including the Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX) satellite, NASA’s first Small Explorer (SMEX) mission. His group provided a two–solar cycle baseline for the radiation belts and synoptic basis for interpreting the recent extreme solar minimum. Following community discussion of a potential Maunder Minimum, he demonstrated that a strong coronal mass ejection observed by NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft could have caused an extreme “Carrington event”–magnitude geomagnetic storm had it struck Earth in 2012. He was investigator on the Student Nitric Oxide Explorer Mission, was a lead investigator on the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) orbiter mission, and is now lead investigator on the flagship four-spacecraft Magnetosphere Multiscale Mission launched in 2015 to study magnetic reconnection, the process converting magnetic into particle kinetic energy at Earth, Sun, and stars. Dan, as principal investigator for the Relativistic Electron Proton Telescope on the Van Allen Probes twin spacecraft mission launched in 2012 to study the radiation belts, has published many of the major discoveries, from the third “storage ring” early in the mission to the “impenetrable barrier” to highly relativistic electron penetration deep into the inner magnetosphere.

In addition to his scholarship in top journals, Dan has unselfishly served the space research community in significant capacities. He held leadership positions at two national laboratories, Los Alamos and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and since 1994 has been the director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado. He served with great distinction as chair of the most recent National Academies’ decadal survey in heliophysics. Dan has continued to serve as a strong advocate for new scientific missions and strengthening our technological infrastructure through greater understanding of the potential extreme variability of the natural space environment.

—Mary K. Hudson, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.; also at High Altitude Observatory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo.


I thank my dear friend, Mary Hudson, for her great generosity and kindness in leading my nomination. I have been blessed with many other friends, none more enduring than Louis Lanzerotti, who played a key nomination role as well and has shaped my career in countless ways.

I think back as a student at the University of Iowa. James Van Allen asked me while I still was an undergrad if I’d like to build an instrument to go to Jupiter. Guess what? I said yes! How many students get such a chance? Going from the University of Iowa to the California Institute of Technology with Edward Stone was a great experience. Ed showed the value of relentless hard work and precision of thinking—I thank him so much for his mentorship.

I was privileged in the 1980s to head a unique, world-class Los Alamos space plasma physics group. My deep sadness and regret is that my great friend from those Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) days—Jack Gosling—passed away this year and could not see this award. Jack had a profound influence on me and every other researcher with whom he interacted. While at LANL, I was befriended by two especially influential scientists: Atsuhiro Nishida (Institute of Space and Astronautical Science director in Japan) and Bob McPherron (University of California, Los Angeles). They got me interested in all aspects of geomagnetic activity and taught me the joy of data analysis.

From Los Alamos to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center was quite a pilgrimage. Being chief of the Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics at Goddard gave me central NASA project science roles and let me interact with the leaders of U.S. and international space agencies. It got me into space policy in a big way for both NASA and for the U.S. National Academies.

In moving to the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), I think I’ve had my most exhilarating scientific adventures. I am immensely proud of LASP and the outstanding people who comprise the Lab. I feel that this Bowie Medal is a recognition of each and every LASP scientist, engineer, and student. If there is a space research heaven, it must perforce look a very great deal like Boulder, Colo.

To be able to reach this very special point in my career, I’ve been blessed with many other amazing things. Parents who nurtured my dreams of being a space scientist and brothers who kept me grounded in practicality. Countless colleagues over the many years who stimulated my mind and ambitions. But, most of all, I have been blessed by having the most wonderful wife and amazing daughter. Vicki and Kirsten—you are the greatest among my many great friends, and I love you both so very much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

—Daniel N. Baker, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder