Space Weather Pioneer Louis Lanzerotti Wins Second Career Award from the American Geophysical Union

Over his long and influential career, Louis Lanzerotti, distinguished research professor of physics, is principally known for shedding light on the space environment around Earth, a little-known realm where highly energized particles and radiation unleashed by coronal mass ejections and solar flares bombard spacecraft and the planet itself.

Lanzerotti is also widely credited with advancing the public’s understanding of these invisible but potent forces through papers, symposia and national and international panels, ultimately reaching a wide audience of fellow scientists, technologists, engineers and policymakers concerned about protecting space- and ground-based technologies – from spacecraft to  energy and communication grids – from potentially catastrophic disruptions.

This month, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) tapped him to receive its William Kaula Award in recognition of his “unselfish service to the scientific community through extraordinary dedication to, and exceptional efforts on behalf of, the Union’s publications program.”  

More than a decade ago, Lanzerotti helped found the AGU journal Space Weather: The International Journal of Research and Applications, which focuses on understanding and forecasting the intensity and effects of solar wind and storms on technology and of cosmic rays on living creatures.  He was the journal’s founding editor, remaining at the helm for a solar cycle – from 2003 to 2014 – while also contributing his own reviews and editorials and mentoring and advising junior editors on the journal’s staff.

“Space Weather was the first scientific and engineering journal devoted to reporting cutting-edge research on how our space environment impacts our technological and biological infrastructure.  To wit, the journal married the pure science with the applied, allowing the academic, government and commercial sectors a common resource to share ideas,” said Andrew Gerrard, director of NJIT’s Center for Solar-Terrestrial Research. “The result was a journal whose influence steadily grew during Lou’s tenure and greatly advanced our understanding of space weather’s impact.”

At that time, Lanzerotti recalled, the scientific and applications communities were “fairly separate.”

“When the journal committee recruited me to be editor, I advised them that our focus should be applications-oriented, thus also exposing the scientific community to real practical problems,” he recounted. “We also decided to include a mix of research papers, editorials and opinion pieces and even some shorter feature articles. This was something of a departure, but I believe it opened up the conversation to a wider audience .”

In 2011 Lanzerotti was awarded the AGU’s William Bowie Medal, the organization’s highest recognition, for “outstanding contributions for fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.”

He continues to lend his half-century of expertise to efforts by the federal government to better prepare and secure the nation’s expanding, increasingly sophisticated communications and energy infrastructure against potentially catastrophic solar storms. He is currently the principal investigator of data-gathering instruments on the NASA Van Allen Probes spacecraft, which are advancing understanding of Earth’s radiation belts.

Late last year, he took part in the panel discussion “Space Weather: Understanding Potential Impacts and Building Resilience,” convened in Washington D.C. under the auspices of the Executive Office of the President of the United States and attended by scientists and engineers from academia and industry, as well as policymakers and elected officials. At that time, the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy laid out a multi-part action plan to address, as Lanzerotti put it, “civil societal issues related to all aspects of space weather.”

The symposium followed on the heels of a conference late last year, “Space Weather: Understanding Potential Impacts and Building Resilience,” convened in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the Executive Office of the President of the United States and also attended by scientists and engineers from academia and industry, as well as policymakers and elected officials. At that time, the OSTP laid out a multi-part action plan to address, as Lanzerotti put it, “civil societal issues related to all aspects of space weather.”

Tracey Regan

tregan@njit.edu