Juan Roederer

2000 Edward A. Flinn III Award Winner

Juan G. Roederer was given the Edward A. Flinn III Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on December 17, 2000, in San Francisco, California. The award recognizes those individuals who personify the Union’s motto, “unselfish cooperation in research,” through their facilitating, coordinating, and implementing activities.


“It is in every scientist’s best interest to work in a field that is strong, vibrant, and productive, but fields do not evolve in this way by themselves. They need a critical mass of talented individuals working, even if competitively, toward a common goal, and they need infrastructure. Someone has to take the lead, to sacrifice his or her personal time to serve the common good, or that enabling infrastructure will not be put in place. I call the realization of this need ‘altruistic self-interest.’ It is the principle that underlies AGU’s motto ‘Unselfish Cooperation in Research.’ It is the reason we should freely exchange data and ideas with our colleagues, and it has been a motivating principle for Juan Roederer in his organization of national and international programs for over three decades.

“Few scientists understand the principle of altruistic self-interest and even fewer live by it, but Juan Roederer is one of those few. As vice president and then president of the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy in the 1970s, he reorganized and revitalized IAGA, so that today it is arguably the most active of IUGG’s associations. Roederer was the force behind the International Magnetospheric Study from 1976 to 1978, which mounted the first coordinated attack on the physics of the Earth’s magnetosphere. He was one of the early organizers of the Global Change program. He initiated the Geospace Environment Modeling program that, with NSF support, has successfully coordinated four campaigns to address critical issues in the Earth’s magnetosphere. He was the international coordinator of ICSU’s Solar-Terrestrial Energy Program from 1990 to 1997. Back at home, Roederer led the world-renown Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks from 1977 to 1986; he helped draft the Arctic Research and Policy Act passed by Congress in 1984. He served as vice chairman and then chairman from 1985 to 1991 of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, publishing numerous articles and monographs on arctic research policy; and from 1984 to 1992, he served as AGU’s international secretary. He has accomplished all that while contributing significantly to the fields of space physics, the psychoacoustics of music, and international science policy.

“Juan Roederer was born in Trieste, Italy, on September 2, 1929; moved to Vienna as a child; and then emigrated to Argentina in 1939. He completed his education with a doctorate in physical-mathematical sciences from the University of Buenos Aires in 1952, in which he studied latitudinal variations of cosmic rays along the Andes at altitudes from sea level to 6000 meters. After 2 years of research at the Max-Planck-Institut in Göttingen, Germany, he returned to an assistant professorship at the University of Buenos Aires and was appointed chief of the Cosmic Ray Laboratory of the Argentine Atomic Energy Commission. During this period, as part of a 5-member commission, he helped reorganize the 90,000-student university, establishing full-time professorships and graduate schools that did not exist before then, and making research accomplishments a condition of faculty promotion. In 1959, he became a full professor and director of the National Cosmic Ray Center. Over the next several years, the Argentine Cosmic Ray Center established three world-class cosmic ray observatories in Argentina, operated an Antarctic observatory, flew long-duration stratospheric balloons, and launched sounding rockets.

“After a 2-year appointment as an NRC senior research fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center, he returned to Buenos Aires in June 1966 to be confronted with a military coup. After a period of unsuccessful protest over the military interference in university affairs, he and his family took the opportunity, when it was presented to them, to emigrate to the U.S., joining the physics faculty at the University of Denver in 1967. From 1977 to 1986, he served as director of the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska, after which he returned to teaching physics until his retirement in 1993. Since then he has continued to conduct research as an emeritus professor at the University of Alaska.

“For a career of significant service to the geophysical communities of two nations and an equally great contribution to the international community, it is in our interest to honor Juan Roederer with the Flinn Award, both to thank him for his efforts and also to encourage others to serve the community as he has.”

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


“When a scientist retires, he/she often finds him/herself writing autobiographies and reminiscences and being interviewed for oral history accounts. As a by-product of this activity comes the self-evaluation of one’s own contributions to science.

“When I started pondering about this ‘legacy thing,’ I began to realize that, indeed, much of my professional life was dedicated not to analyzing data or developing theories, not to publishing papers, not to writing proposals, or, as a science administrator, not to running after short-term pork barrel money; but, instead, to helping develop long-term research plans and policies for the community.

“Why did I do this? Why did I so often give up opportunities for research, only to sit on some ‘obscure’ committees? The explanation may be found with the experiences during the early times in my life, as a fledgling physicist in the mid-1950s in Argentina. This was then a developing country that had just come out of a long dictatorship, with neither organized research nor full-time professorships at its universities, no basic and applied research institutes of note, and no public conscience of the importance of science. It was clear that we young physicists, spread thinly over this vast country, despite having to compete with each other for meager funds and a deficient infrastructure, had to give up a big chunk of our personal research time and work together to help create a national environment more propitious for scientific research. And we succeeded!

“This order of priorities persisted throughout my entire professional career. Once settled in the U.S., during the Cold War years of the 1960s and the 1970s, I became keenly aware of how important it was to help maintain and strengthen the only open bridge between East and West: international scientific cooperation. I can tell many tales of how joint research programs have benefited not only our colleagues in the (former) Eastern Bloc, but also even us here in the West. On the domestic front, I spent a lot of time on Academy committees fighting for the preservation of truly basic research—that which is driven exclusively by intellectual curiosity.

“Later, in Alaska, I found myself in a situation not totally unlike that of Argentina: a new frontier state in which adequate support of scientific research and public understanding of its importance were lacking. So, despite being director of the Geophysical Institute, I spent an often-highly criticized amount of time helping to create a better environment for all of science, not just geophysics; and working in close cooperation with our congressional delegation and federal agencies on the establishment of a U.S. Arctic research policy. I believed then, and still do now, that in the long term, this apparent defection from one discipline and one institution to the whole community is yet another expression of the principle of altruistic self-interest.

“I have been honored with election to the Academies of Science of Austria and Argentina, and also the Third World Academy of Sciences, and to fellowship in AGU and AAAS. Those were mainly rewards for my research activities. And now I will treasure the AGU Flinn Award with particular pride and gratitude, for it represents a recognition by the community that this much time invested in ‘altruistic self-interest’ was not wasted at all. Thank you!”

—JUAN G. ROEDERER, Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska, Fairbanks