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Donald A. Gurnett

Donald A. Gurnett
Donald A. Gurnett

The 2006 Hannes Alfvén Medal is awarded to Donald A. Gurnett for his pioneering work on plasma waves in the solar wind and in the magnetospheres of the Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. His work has greatly contributed to our understanding of space plasma physics.

Donald A. Gurnett received Ph. D. degrees in physics from the University of Iowa in 1963 and 1965. Since 1965 he has served on the faculty of the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Iowa, where he holds the Carver/Van Allen professorship of Physics and Astronomy since 1989. He has received numerous awards, including the 1978 John Howard Dellinger Gold Medal from the International Union of Radio Science, the 1989 John Adam Fleming Medal from the American Geophysical Union, and the 1989 Excellence in Plasma Physics Award from the American Physical Society. In 1998 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and in 2004 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Gurnett’s scientific work is devoted to the study of space plasma, especially the many kinds of waves, including Alfvén waves, that exist in space plasmas. He has identified important problems, conceived instrumentation to make the relevant measurements and engineered and developed the instruments needed. He has formed and led teams to build and fly the instruments on spacecraft and developed unique data analysis and presentation techniques. He has used these analysis techniques, along with his deep understanding of plasma theory, to understand the nature of the fluctuations observed in the data. He has participated in thirty spacecraft projects, most notably the Voyager 1 and 2 flights to the outer planets, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and the Cassini mission to Saturn. Professor Gurnett’s work has provided an understanding of how waves are generated by the very energetic charged particle distributions found in the radiation belts of the magnetized planets, and how these waves influence the energy and velocity distribution of the charged particles via various processes generally known as wave-particle interactions. Many of these same processes are also relevant to laboratory and cosmical plasmas. Professor Gurnett is the author or co-author of over 450 scientific publications, primarily in the area of magnetospheric radio and plasma wave research.