Margaret Kivelson

2005 John Adam Fleming Medal Winner

Margaret G. Kivelson was awarded the Fleming Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on 7 December 2005, in San Francisco, Calif. The medal recognizes original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences.


“After a Ph.D. in theoretical physics (with Nobel Prize winner Julian Schwinger) and part-time work at the RAND Corporation during her children’s early childhood, Margaret Kivelson entered geophysics in the 1960s. Since then, Margaret has led a remarkable career in the fields of solar-terrestrial physics, heliospheric and planetary science, and, in particular, planetary magnetism. Her achievements include the following.

“In the 1970s, being involved in the first definitive in situ measurements of solar-terrestrial coupling showing magnetic reconnection was fundamental, developing the best codification of the Pioneer spacecraft Jovian magnetic field measurements, and laying the foundations of a better understanding of how magnetospheric convection feeds Earth’s energetic particle belts. In the 1980s, picking up the challenge to develop a magnetometer for the Galileo mission to the Jupiter system, developing an understanding of terrestrial ULF [Ultra-low frequency] pulsations, and working on the interaction of small bodies with the solar wind.

“In the 1990s, triumphantly leading the Galileo team to a series of astounding discoveries, particularly about the varied magnetic behavior of the Galilean satellites.

“In the past 10 years, the scientific harvest of Galileo has been great, and Margaret’s part in it has been very large. She has been responsible, through the measurements made by her instrument, for the most surprising and challenging results from the mission. Her discoveries concerning the magnetic fields and the magnetized environments of Jupiter’s Galilean moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are going to be seminal references in planetary science.

“No planetary scientist would have predicted that the major and unexpected differences in the magnetic fields of each of the moons would be perhaps the most extraordinary of the harvest of results returned by Galileo. Her scientific leadership was required and tested to the full to overturn some of the very strong initial objections. But now our view of the formation of the moons has to change. The discovery of the intrinsic field of Ganymede would have been a discovery alone, enough to etch her name in history. However, the implications of her work in deducing the existence of magnetic induction signals at Europa and implying thereby a liquid ocean below the ice of Europa have gained her media attention worldwide, and deservedly so. As a renaissance scientist, Galileo and his telescope changed the way we view Jupiter and the universe. On the mission named for him, Margaret’s repertoire of theory, observation, modeling, and data analysis has revolutionized our view of the Galilean moons

“Margaret has educated and inspired many students and colleagues. In her role as educator and scientist, there are few who can match her skill to transform complicated physical ideas into mathematics, and mathematical equations into beautifully crafted prose. Most remarkable, for someone whose scientific genius is such that she could have justifiably focused on her own pursuits, is her continual willingness to find time to work on behalf of other, more junior scientists. Often, but certainly not exclusively, these are female scientists, for whom she has been an extraordinary role model and mentor. For these contributions, and for her scientific achievements and leadership, it is an honor to present Margaret Kivelson with the John Adam Fleming Medal.”

—HOWARD J. SINGER, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colo.


“Thank you, Howard, for your generous words. I am honored to accept the John Adam Fleming Medal, which recognizes original research in space physics. How remarkable to receive accolades for having fun and working with wonderful colleagues. It is a special pleasure to see my name linked to the 37 distinguished recipients who preceded me.

“Today’s honor gives me a chance to thank the many family members, friends, and colleagues whose kindness and commitment to high standards in scholarship helped bring me before you today. My family: My parents, sister, in-laws, nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren allowed me to pursue my interests certain of their support, affection, and approval.

“It was my good fortune to be launched on a scientific career under the guidance of Julian Schwinger, whose rigor and emphasis on fundamentals served me well even outside the field of quantum electrodynamics. I owe to him also my circle of longtime friends, many from the impressive group of graduate students who flocked to Harvard to work with him.

“At UCLA[University of California, Los Angeles], I discovered the excitement of space physics. It offered new terrain both in theory, where nineteenth century physics was found to have new and previously unrecognized applications, and in observations, where spacecraft data motivated new concepts and provided tests of theory without which science cannot survive.

“It was Bill Libby who brought me to UCLA, thinking that I knew something about plasmas. Long hours in the library soon gave me the background to fulfill his expectations. Paul Coleman encouraged me to undertake responsibilities on a magnetometer team and set me on the path still followed. Other UCLA colleagues, Krishan Khurana, Ray Walker and Bob McPherron, enrich my days through their friendship and intellectual curiosity. It is particularly fitting that I acknowledge Chris Russell, who as Fleming medalist in 2003 pointed out how few women receive medals. That is probably the only reason why I stand here today, but I do thank Chris for his support of me and other strong female scientists.

“Among those women are many of my special friends: Fran Bagenal, Phyllis Greifinger, Valeria Troitskaya, Imke DePater, Michele Thompson, Michele Dougherty, Renee Prang?Meg Urry, Melissa McGrath, and others who join me in encouraging our younger female colleagues to aim high. Women are still poorly represented at the top levels, especially in academia, but we continue to push.

“The immense reward of working with outstanding students and postdoctoral associates cannot be overstated. Their names should join mine in receiving this honor.

“It is disappointing to both of us that my friend, David Southwood, is unable to be in San Francisco today to share the exhilaration of this event. Our collaboration has enriched my life and my professional contributions. We have written more than 60 papers together. He surely owns a piece of any award given me. Finally, I want to remember my dear husband, Daniel, whose love, friendship, and generosity of spirit made my life beautiful and rewarding. His confidence in my abilities made it possible for me to take on the challenges that led me to this platform today.”