Louis J. Lanzerotti

2011 William Bowie Medal Winner

Louis J. Lanzerotti was awarded the 2011 William Bowie Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 7 December 2011 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.”


Louis J. Lanzerotti has four parallel careers. His first is in ground- and space-based studies of Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere. He joined Bell Laboratories in 1965 to engage in both engineering and scientific research on Earth’s radiation belts. AT&T’s Telstar satellites had just been launched, and data were available for analyzing and interpreting not only the Van Allen belts themselves but also the effects of radiation on space systems, the beginning of Lanzerotti’s leadership in what is now called “space weather.”

Career number two is as a particle experimentalist on NASA deep-space missions, including the ­ATS-1 and ­ATS-3 communications satellites, the interplanetary IMP 4 and IMP 5 spacecraft, the Voyager missions to the outer planets and interstellar medium, the Galileo Jupiter Orbiter and Probe missions (principal investigator (PI)), the Ulysses mission over the poles of the Sun (PI), the ACE L1 mission, the Cassini mission to Saturn, and in 2012 the Earth’s Radiation Belt Storm Probes (PI)—“back to the future” for him.

Lanzerotti’s third career is in service to his professional community—all of it.

For AGU, he has been associate editor of Journal of Geophysical Research and Geophysical Research Letters, chair of the Meetings Committee, member and chair of the Committee on Public Policy, and chair of a Union visiting committee. He is founding editor of the online AGU journal Space Weather: The International Journal of Research and Applications.

He was chair of NASA’s Space and Earth Science Advisory Committee and a member of the NASA Advisory Council. He was a member of the 1990 Presidential Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program (chaired by Norman Augustine) and a member of the Vice President’s Space Policy Advisory Board (1990–1992).

Lanzerotti has served on some 40 committees and boards of the National Academies, chairing such diverse groups as the Committee on Antarctic Science and Policy, the Space Studies Board, the Committee on Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage, the Committee on Assessment of Options for Extending the Life of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the Decadal Survey for Solar and Space Physics. Lanzerotti chaired the U.S. Assessment Committee for the National Space Weather Program in 2005–2006. In 2002 the U.S. Senate confirmed his appointment to the National Science Board; he chaired its Committee on Science and Engineering Indicators in 2006–2010.

By now, it should be no surprise that Lanzerotti has a fourth career. In the 1980s he was elected to three ­3-year terms on his Harding Township, N. J., school board, with 6 years as chair of its curriculum committee and 6 years as vice president. Since 1993 he has served six elected terms on the township governing body, including 3 years as mayor.

Given Lou’s stupendous productivity in two research fields, the quantity and quality of his service to NASA, the National Science Foundation, the National Academies, AGU, and his local community defy credibility. No matter how busy, he always finds time to help others. He is the personification of “unselfish cooperation in research.”

Besides, how many other mayors have won the AGU William Bowie Medal?


—Daniel N. Baker, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado at Boulder; and Charles F. Kennel, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla


Thank you, Dan and Charlie, for your most gracious and generous remarks.


Mr. President, members of AGU, and guests, I am profoundly honored to be recognized by AGU and by my professional colleagues with this William Bowie Medal. I have been extraordinarily fortunate throughout my life and professional career. I am the fortunate descendant of immigrant parents and grandparents who strongly believed in and supported personal responsibility, gainful work, and education as the means to better one’s own life and one’s family’s lives and as a means to aiding the community in which one lives. Most important of all, I was fortunate in meeting, in a Harvard graduate school quantum mechanics class, a cute little blond from Southern California. The foundation under this Bowie recognition is Mary Yvonne, who for the past ­46-plus years has managed to keep our family functioning, pursue her parallel ­40-year career as a physical chemist, raise our two children, and put up with my often frantic personality and lifestyle.

The space age was less than a decade old when I was offered the opportunity by Walter Brown, a very talented physicist, to join Bell Labs. I was seeking a stimulating environment in which I might tackle leading-edge problems in both science and engineering. Bell Labs fostered a collaborative culture whereby practical telecommunications problems presented challenges whose solutions often led to new scientific understandings. I soon learned that the conventional linear model view of pure research leading to applications is not the only path to practical outcomes for society, or for a company. It maybe not even the best path, as Bell Labs experience taught.

The Bell Labs culture that most exemplified the opportunities for research advances and for professional volunteerism were the daily lunchtime discussions at a large round table. The ever evolving and revolving population at that table, consisting of physicists, engineers, statisticians, linguists, and mathematicians, spawned many collaborative research projects, joint papers, physical science insights, filed patents, and the occasional political jousting. I was fortunate throughout my career at Bell Labs, now at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and in the numerous organizations with which I have collaborated to be surrounded by exceptionally talented, committed, and congenial colleagues, friends, and students. Several of the most important of these have been Carol Maclennan, Les Medford, David Thomson, Tom Krimigis, and the late Klaus Rinnert. Carol brought an uncanny talent to ferreting “signals” out of gigabytes of data noise from our many spacecraft, ground-based, and laboratory experiments and instruments. Without Les Medford’s perfectionism, the large number of ground-based installations and arrays that he engineered and managed, from the Antarctic to Frobisher Bay to Point Arena to Lac St. Jean and to many locales in between, would not have produced the unexcelled quality and continuity of data sets. Dave Thomson is a unique individual in many ways, from his engineering capabilities to his analysis insights, and a terrific political one-liner besides. The long hours spent with Tom Krimigis in discussions of science, of project operations and management, and of the politics of science sum up to many, many years. Klaus Rinnert of the Max Planck Institute in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, who sadly died too young, was a superb collaborator on our Galileo Jupiter experiments.

In reflecting upon my professional life in the context of this medal, I am most taken by the engineering and scientific insights that were achieved from the diversity of projects and programs in which my colleagues and I participated. There was always something from one or more of these projects that facilitated advances in others and/or that provoked new lines of thinking or new investigations. I am thankful for the diversity of challenging opportunities—in research and in advisory roles—that I have had over the past 2 score and 6 years. I sincerely thank all of my outstanding friends, colleagues, and family for their continuing support and collegiality that have culminated in this wonderful recognition by AGU.


—Louis J. Lanzerotti, Bell Laboratories (Retired) and New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark