Spiro Antiochos

2013 John Adam Fleming Medal Winner

Spiro K. Antiochos was awarded the 2013 John Adam Fleming Medal at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 11 December 2013 in San Francisco, Calif. The medal is for “original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences.”


The John Adam Fleming Medal is awarded for “original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences.” Originality and technical leadership are exactly the characteristics that distinguish the research of Spiro K. Antiochos. Spiro possesses a truly unique combination of physical insight, creativity, and mastery of the concepts and mathematical and numerical tools of space physics. These talents have allowed him to develop completely original theories for major observational problems and to test and refine those theories using sophisticated numerical simulation codes that he himself helped to develop. Spiro’s physical insight is especially impressive. He has an uncanny ability to identify the fundamental aspects of complex problems and to see physical connections where others do not. This can sometimes involve ideas that may initially seem counterintuitive to those with less creativity. Many of Spiro’s revolutionary advances have opened up whole new areas of study and shaped the course of space physics. Examples include the breakout model for coronal mass ejections (CMEs), the S-web model for the slow solar wind, and the thermal nonequilibrium model for solar prominences. The breakout model is of special significance to AGU as it strives to promote science for the betterment of humanity. CMEs are enormous explosions on the Sun that can have major “space weather” impacts here on Earth. They affect technologies ranging from communication and navigation systems to electrical power grids. Breakout is the leading theory for why CMEs occur and may one day be the foundation for more accurate space weather forecasting.

In addition to being a science leader, Spiro has played an extremely important role as a community leader. He has served on numerous agency, National Academy, and community committees. Service to AGU includes associate editor of the Journal of Geophysics Research and member of the Fellows Committee. However, one contribution to AGU stands out in particular. As the elected chair of the Solar Physics Division (SPD) of the American Astronomical Society, Spiro organized the first joint meeting between the SPD and AGU, held in the spring of 1994. This watershed event led to steadily growing ties between the SPD and AGU communities. Solar sessions at the AGU Fall Meeting are now more numerous than ever.

Spiro’s many distinguished contributions have been formally recognized before. He is a recipient of the George Ellery Hale Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the E. O. Hulburt Award of the Naval Research Laboratory, the John C. Lindsay Award of the Goddard Space Flight Center, and NASA’s Outstanding Leadership and Exceptional Scientific Achievement medals. Spiro is an elected Fellow of AGU, the American Physical Society, and the Royal Astronomical Society.

As a world-renowned pioneer and leader in space science, Spiro Antiochos is a highly deserving winner of the 2013 John Adam Fleming Medal.

—JAMES A. KLIMCHUK, Heliophysics Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.


Thank you, Jim Klimchuk, for this far too generous citation, and thank you very much, my AGU colleagues, for honoring me with the Fleming Medal. When I consider the list of excellent scientists who have been awarded the Fleming Medal, I am humbled that you have included me in their company. I am especially proud that this award is from AGU because only later in my career did I change my science focus and join AGU. This was the best professional decision I have ever made. As a result, I have met many wonderful colleagues. I’ve always loved doing research, but my colleagues in AGU have made it so much more enjoyable. Also, moving to AGU gave me the opportunity to participate in truly exciting science. My present position is that of senior scientist for space weather at NASA Goddard. It is interesting to note that the field of space weather science did not even exist when I started my career. I was very fortunate to be part of the beginning of a new field and, as a result, to be able to participate in the explosive advances of space weather science over the past 2 decades.

I’ve witnessed amazing progress during these years, much of it due to improvements in experimentation but much also due to improvements in my areas of expertise: theory and modeling. We can now solve the full set of equations for phenomena that we actually observe on the Sun, the heliosphere, the magnetosphere, and the ionosphere. As a result of this progress in theory and modeling, physics in general has changed completely. When I started in science, physics was all about discovering the laws of nature, but now the frontier work is about understanding how those laws affect humanity. This is the science of AGU, and I am honored that my contributions to that science have been recognized with the Fleming Medal.

Of course, I could have accomplished nothing on my own; all my contributions have resulted from the help of others. First and foremost, I want to thank my family: my sons, Brendan and Brian, and especially my wife, Mary. Her steadfast support and infinite patience have been truly heroic. Also, I am so fortunate to have three close colleagues, Jim Klimchuk, Judy Karpen, and Rick DeVore, with whom I have worked in partnership for many years and who are responsible for any success that I may have had. They have made every aspect of the work enjoyable, even the writing of endless proposals.

Finally, I want to acknowledge my support at NASA headquarters, in particular the Living With a Star (LWS) program led by Lika Guhathakurta and the Supporting Research and Technology (SR&T) program now led by Jeff Newmark and previously by Bill Wagner. NASA has supported my science throughout my career, beginning with graduate school at Stanford in the 1970s, and recently has even gone so far as to hire me.

Finally, thank you, all my colleagues; it is a pleasure to work with you.

—SPIRO K. ANTIOCHOS, Heliophysics Division, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.