Raymond G. Walker

1996 Edward A. Flinn III Award Winner

Raymond Walker was awarded the Edward A. Flinn III Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Banquet on December 17, 1996, in San Francisco, California. The Flinn Award is awarded to recognize those individuals who personify the Union’s motto “unselfish cooperation in research” through their facilitating, coordinating, and implementing activities. This award is given not more often than annually. The award citation and Walker’s response are given here.


“I am honored to present my colleague and friend, Raymond J. Walker, recipient of the Edward A. Flinn III Award of the American Geophysical Union, the sixth individual so honored. The Flinn award differs from most awards in our field by honoring those who have distinguished themselves through dedicated service to the geoscience community. Few among us have contributed so unselfishly and in so many different ways to the advancement of our discipline as Ray Walker. He contributed as a research scientist, teacher, friend, counselor to students, as a wise and dedicated advisory committee member, and as a leader of new undertakings. Ray has made his mark in many ways. Among his space plasma colleagues, his unique talent for extracting results relevant to important physical questions from computer simulations is highly valued, but his broad and varied scientific accomplishments are not limited to computer simulations. He is an ideal collaborator: quick, perceptive, and generous in sharing ideas and credit; his collaborations span continents and oceans. That’s just the beginning; it is not what brings us here today. We come to honor Ray principally for his leadership in convincing his colleagues that scientific data acquired with great effort and at great cost to the community and the nation should be treasured, protected, and made generally accessible. Not an easy job, but one that Ray has mastered brilliantly.

“Think about the problems. If you ever waited for months for a data set (extracted from a principal investigator after much bowing and scraping) and then found you could not make head or tail of it, you’ll understand. Ray did something about these problems, and a few others. He was very influential in selling the community on the idea that data belong to all of us and that they should be made available very quickly. He insisted on internally documented data sets that explicitly describe the contents, the coordinate systems used, the measurement units (1 Jovian radius means different things to different people at different times). He insisted on a procedure for validating data through a new type of refereeing process that checks, for example, whether archived data can be used to make plots that are realistic. Catalogues have been developed, linking data sets to correlative data such as spacecraft ephemerides and other simultaneous measurements essential for scientific work. The output is produced in forms that can be used by any computer through CD ROMS or networks. Ray’s activities taught me to use a new vocabulary: “platform-independent,” “TCPIP protocol,” and so forth. Databases are decentralized. Instead of being collected at data centers where the staff may be unfamiliar with the technical features of the instrumentation and data processing, the data archives are maintained at institutions where they remain under the supervision of scientists familiar with the type of instrumentation and the type of data. The concept of a data node was thus developed.

“Walker now serves as the project scientist for the NASA Planetary Data System (PDS). Under his guidance, PDS has become an effective tool for planetary plasma research. He personally leads the Planetary Plasma Interactions Node (PPIN) centered at the University of California at Los Angeles. This node is responsible for plasma and field data from planetary missions. Ray never loses sight of the objective of providing the highest quality space physics data to the scientific community. Pedigrees are important and are taken as seriously as they are for cats and dogs. With data from PDS comes an assurance of good breeding! Ray’s vision of a scientific data system met opposition from some who thought that the efforts that it entailed were not necessary, but Ray remains unyielding on the issue of quality. His vision and his dedication have inspired his staff and his collaborators to show that his goals could be achieved. The PPIN node that has resulted has been referred to as “the jewel of PDS.” The importance of quality has been accepted throughout the PDS. Ray Walker, through PDS, has created a model that will shape the development of archival data systems for all of the environmental sciences and provide an exceptional service to the scientific community.

“In a broader sense, Ray has worked with the Catalog Interoperability Advisory Committee (which he chairs) to make it easier for Earth scientists, planetary scientists, astronomers, etc., to address interdisciplinary problems. By putting together a directory of all of the data potentially useful in these different fields, they have facilitated access for “outsiders” to the relevant information. The directory has brief descriptions of the data holdings of NASA, NOAA, and other U.S. agencies in addition to European and Japanese agencies. “Ray’s knowledge and experience using computers in new ways to achieve important scientific objectives attracted the attention of the American Geophysical Union. He chaired their Committee on Information Technology for 3 years and in that time helped guide numerous changes that are transforming the way the Union carries out its business.

“In summary, Ray Walker represents ideally the service and leadership characteristics recognized by the Flinn Award. He has coordinated the process of assembling the tools of research; he has implemented new tools for accessing and understanding the measurements; he has played a key role in developing a new type scientific program; and he has provided critical support to the research community by introducing new ways of doing research. He brings distinction to the award that is being bestowed on him today.

“Let me end by saying that my words cannot convey the degree to which this modest and dedicated scientist has managed to become one of the most respected and affectionately regarded members of the hard-driven space sciences community. He has friends all over the world, but especially at UCLA, where he is the glue that links his more narrowly focused colleagues. He is the confidante who helps the students with their problems, both in studies and in getting along in the world. I have been fortunate to have worked extremely closely with him since he began his graduate studies, and I cannot think of a time when he has failed me in any way. We are lucky to have a colleague among us who so brilliantly exemplifies AGU’s motto “unselfish cooperation in research.”

—MARGARET KIVELSON, University of California, Los Angeles


“I am pleased and honored to have been selected to receive this year’s Edward A. Flinn III award. Thank you! When I first learned I was to receive the Flinn award my immediate reaction was “why me?”, since so many have worked together to make Planetary Data System (PDS) possible. There are far too many to thank each individually.

“The ideas for PDS first took shape with the work of the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Data Management and Computation (CODMAC) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I was one of the first selected to serve on CODMAC after it became a standing committee. I participated in CODMAC for 5 years and in that stimulating atmosphere formulated most of my ideas about the management of science data. The members of CODMAC realized that our space data were irreplaceable and must be preserved for ourselves and future scientists and that the preservation of space science data required a partnership between NASA and the scientific community. We achieved this goal with the help of several NASA managers, starting with Bill Quaide, a previous Flinn award winner, who appreciated the importance of preserving planetary data. PDS is a partnership between Jet Propulsion Laboratory managers and engineers and university and laboratory scientists. Because scientists and engineers frequently have very different approaches to projects, disagreement and some conflict are inevitable. PDS Project Manager Sue McMahon has worked tirelessly to keep JPL engineers and university scientists on the same wavelength. No single organization has the scientific expertise to manage all types of planetary data, so PDS was developed and operated as a distributed system both in terms of the data and human talent. At last count, PDS employed the talents of scientists and technologists at 26 universities and laboratories in the United States and Europe. As I said, there are far too many to thank individually. However, I would like to single out two people, Todd King and Steve Joy, who have done the work of developing and operating our part of PDS at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“I am deeply indebted to my colleagues at UCLA who have stimulated my fascination with computing and numerical solutions to both scientific and data problems. Much of my background in data management technology came from late night sessions with Neal Cline and Bob McPherron. In computational physics I have enjoyed a 14-year collaboration with Tatsuki Ogino. Finally, I must recognize the two friends and colleagues who have most influenced me. First, I would like to acknowledge Maha Ashour-Abdalla. Maha and I started out as competitors two decades ago and have been arguing physics and computing and advising each other ever since. Maha, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Finally, I want to thank Margy Kivelson. Margy was a researcher just entering space physics when I was a graduate student. As she learned space physics, she taught me. I will always remember her running into my office to tell me about the new concept she had just learned. They say we learn best when we teach others. Margy, I’m glad to have contributed to your education, since I learned a lot and I have continued to learn through our collaboration ever since”

—RAYMOND G. WALKER, University of California, Los Angeles