Endawoke Yizengaw

Boston College

2018 Joanne Simpson Medal for Mid-Career Scientists Winner

Olivier Bachmann and Endawoke Yizengaw were awarded the 2018 Joanne Simpson Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony on 12 December 2018 in Washington, D. C. The medal is for “significant contributions to the Earth and space sciences by an outstanding mid-career scientist.”


Endawoke Yizengaw is the epitome of the AGU Joanne Simpson Medal. He has demonstrated scientific excellence in space science research; performed active outreach to the international space weather community; and dedicated strong commitment to his colleagues, students, and postdocs.

I’ve come to know Endawoke not only for his scientific prowess but also for his life story, how he became a great scientist and a great man after very humble beginnings in Ethiopia. Endawoke was born the youngest child of a large Ethiopian family in a rural village where herding and animal care were his primary activities. School was attended by walking long distances every day. His brilliance was recognized by his teachers, who encouraged him (and his family) to stay in school and later to attend university. He obtained a B.S. in physics at Addis Ababa University, a M.S. in atmospheric physics from the University of Tromsø, and a Ph.D. in space physics from La Trobe University in Australia. Since then, he has done much to advance space physics exploration with a keen interest to develop infrastructure and education in space science in developing countries. Considering his humble beginnings, these are admirable accomplishments.

Endawoke has contributed significantly to the scientific literature on the complexities of ionospheric electrodynamics. He has published scores of high-impact papers using multiple instrument techniques from ground and space. Two of his early papers were selected for the cover of Geophysical Research Letters. One of those papers proved a long-standing conjecture that the ionospheric trough is the signature of a boundary in the magnetosphere. More recent publications describe work where he used ground-based measurements to demonstrate that dayside electrodynamics display not only temporal and seasonal variations but also very strong gradients versus longitude. In addition, Dr. Yizengaw developed the African Meridian B-field Education and Research (AMBER) network of magnetometer instruments in more than 10 countries.

Besides his scientific contributions, Endawoke has played a vital role in the expansion of space science education and research in developing countries. He participates in the International Space Weather Initiative (ISWI), was active in the International Heliophysical Year (IHY) program, and has performed scientific outreach programs for young scientists in the United States and developing nations. He has coconvened conferences and schools in Africa, including an AGU Chapman Conference and a number of ISWI and IHY programs. Endawoke has also mentored postdocs and Ph.D. students who have gone on to develop research programs in developing countries.

To summarize, Dr. Yizengaw is an eminent mid-career scientist with attributes emphatically worthy of the AGU Joanne Simpson Medal.

—Patricia H. Doherty, Boston College,  Mass.


Thank you, Pat, for those overly kind words. It is my great honor to receive this award. The fortunate start of my career has depended intensely on the support of family members. I grew up as the youngest of seven children in my family in Amber, a village in northwestern Ethiopia. Although my primary task as a child was to look after the family’s cattle, I joined the nearby elementary school through the influence of my grandfather. However, my parents envisioned me taking over the family farm and eventually forced me to stop my education at grade 4. Two years later, two policemen came to our home with a letter from the principal of my school. It was a warning letter that urged my father to send me back to school or face a legal penalty. It was shocking news for my parent but for me a miraculous gift. Later, I learned that it was my brother Gelaye Leyikun, an elementary school teacher, who used his friend (the principal) to force his own father and pave my way back to school.

My interest in science began in middle school, and I became interested in space science after I listened to a radio interview with an Ethiopian aerospace scientist. It motivated me to search for opportunities around the world to study space science, and I joined Tromsø University in Norway for M.Sc. studies and La Trobe University in Australia for my Ph.D. degree. In May 2004 I joined the University of California, Los Angeles, as a postdoc with Mark Moldwin, who showed me all the necessary tools to be a good scientist and poured everything he had into me to boost my visibility in the space science community. I joined Boston College in 2009 and became fortunate to work very closely with very talented scientists. Specifically, I am indebted to Pat Doherty, our director, for her enthusiastic support of my research and international outreach activities. I am also so grateful to the funding agencies that made my dream a reality.

Last, but not least, this would have not been possible without the love and friendship of my wife, Yemisirach, and hugs from my kids, Hanna and Yoseph. There are also so many more family members, friends, and colleagues I’d like to thank but cannot name. Most importantly, I simply would not be here without the enthusiastic support of my late parents and brother (Gelaye Leyikun), who nurtured my academic success not only to be a scientist but also to see the world at large and to imagine and research even far from the horizon.

—Endawoke Yizengaw, Boston College, Mass.