Zuyin Pu

2012 International Award Winner

Zuyin Pu received the 2012 International Award at the AGU Fall Meeting Honors Ceremony, held on 5 December 2012 in San Francisco, Calif. The award honors “an individual scientist or a small team for making an outstanding contribution to furthering the Earth and space sciences and using science for the benefit of society in less favored nations.”


Throughout his distinguished career, Zuyin Pu has dedicated himself to illuminating fundamental processes in the magnetized plasmas of the terrestrial magnetosphere while concurrently mentoring and inspiring more than a generation of young Chinese scientists. He is an ideal recipient of an award that reflects AGU’s commitment to unselfish collaboration in science.   Widely appreciated for his outstanding analysis of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (K-H-I) of the magnetopause, first through analytical studies and thereafter through computational modeling, Zuyin demonstrated that the K-H-I transports momentum across the magnetopause through both wave and reconnection processes.  He clarified the relation among different and somewhat confusing results previously published by others and took the issue from an amusing theoretical nicety to a key element in our understanding of the ways in which the solar wind controls the magnetosphere. Magnetic reconnection is central to the transport of mass, energy, and momentum in a magnetized plasma. Although recognized as an efficient mechanism for driving large scale magnetospheric dynamics, reconnection has been challenging to understand fully because it is transient and it couples scale lengths that differ by many orders of magnitude. Zuyin and collaborators clarified various ambiguities.  Analyzing data from the magnetopause, they showed that reconnection occurs in regions off the equatorial plane where the fields of the magnetospheric and solar wind plasmas are closest to antiparallel and also near the equator through component reconnection that arises where plasma flow contributes most effectively.

  Thus Zuyin and collaborators addressed the question “is antiparallel or component reconnection dominant” by demonstrating that “they are both important.”With junior colleagues, Zuyin used Cluster multi-spacecraft data to identify the elusive signature of a 3-D magnetic null, i.e., a structure in which fields reconnect around a localized region where the field vanishes.  The result, important for understanding both space and laboratory plasmas, was singled out as one of the outstanding results established by the Cluster mission in its first ten years. The International award recognizes not only scientific contributions but also distinguished service and an international perspective.  Zuyin served with distinction and with great sensitivity to the expectations of his fellow scientists as Asia Pacific Editor of JGR-Space Physics. 

He formed a critical link between the Chinese Double-Star science team and the scientists on Cluster and Themis. Zuyin steered many of the best and the brightest of the Chinese students to the U.S. and Europe for graduate studies and helped them face the challenges of difficult studies while learning to fit into unfamiliar cultures and succeed brilliantly. Zuyin has spent much time out of China, visiting laboratories in Europe and in the U.S. (fortunately for me, he spent two years at UCLA) to interact with colleagues and students while pursuing top level scientific studies.  It would be hard to think of an awardee who more brilliantly personifies “unselfish cooperation.”   For his distinguished scientific contributions that rest heavily on collaboration with international partners and for service to the international scientific community, Zuyin Pu is a most worthy recipient of the AGU International Award.

Margaret Kivelson, Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California



Many thanks to AGU, Margaret Kivelson, and my peers in space physics for selecting and nominating me as the AGU 2012 International Awardee. This award is given “for making an outstanding contribution to furthering the Earth and space sciences and using science for the benefit of society in less favored nations.”  I feel highly honored to be granted this great International Award.


I began my academic career in 1962 under the guidance of Zhao Jiuzhang, the founding father of geophysics and space sciences in China. In late 1979 I visited UCLA, working with Margaret Kivelson. Since returning to China, I have dedicated myself to working on magnetospheric physics, teaching young Chinese students and strengthening our links with colleagues worldwide.


In studying instabilities in the magnetosphere, Margaret Kivelson and I demonstrated that Kelvin-Helmholtz waves at the magnetopause transport energy from the solar wind to the magnetosphere, carrying enough energy to generate micro-pulsations by field line resonances. In the early 1980s, we began to get continuous support from NSFC for research on energy transport in geospace. Then I started the study of magnetic reconnection with Z. X. Liu of NCSS, CAS. In the 1990s, I visited the MPIA, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germanythree times, working on substorm mechanisms with A. Korth and B. Wilken. After that, as a CO-I of the ESA Cluster Mission and a key member of the Chinese Double Star Science Team, I set up a research group at Peking University studying 3-D multiple-scale magnetospheric processes with Cluster-Double Star coordinated measurements. The Chinese team made the first observations of in situ evidences for a null and a null-null pair in 3-D reconnection, through a close collaboration of C. J. Xiao, X. G. Wang, Z. Y. Pu, etc. We also found that reconnection occurs simultaneously on the high-latitude magnetopause where solar wind and geomagnetic fields are “anti-parallel,” and at low-latitudes where “component” reconnection dominates. Recently, based on THEMIS measurements and in close relation with the UCLA and ISSI teams, we are continuing studies of near Earth substorms and the 3-D nature of magnetopause reconnection. 


I regard this award as an honor largely given to the magnetospheric physics/magnetic reconnection group at Peking University, Beijing, China for our collective achievements made through close collaboration with colleagues from many countries. I am very happy to share this great honor with my colleagues and students at Peking University.


Many thanks to Double Star, Cluster and THEMIS Missions for providing high quality data for the study of multiple-scale magnetospheric processes.


Many thanks to Margaret Kivelson, Philippe Escoubet, Vassilis Angelopoulos, Tony Lui and all colleagues across the world who have collaborated with us and helped to promote space sciences in China.    


I must share this honor also with my wife Ping Liu; without her support and understanding, I would not have been able to give my full concentration to space physics research.


Developments of Earth and space sciences require international cooperation. I hope we will continue to enjoy a warm and harmonious environment in the future to further strengthen the fruitful collaborations between the international community and Chinese scientists.


–Zuyin Pu, Peking University, Beijing, China