2007 ASP Annual Award Recipients
Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal
Cornell University, USA
Martin Harwit is a pioneer of infrared astronomy and one of the most original thinkers in the field. As one of the "new astronomers" in the 1960s, he explored the far infrared spectrum from space and helped open up a new window on the universe. His wide-ranging interests produced some of the first observations of young massive stars in their placental cocoons, studies of the interplanetary particles surrounding the Sun, and the important calibration of absolute fluxes from the central regions of the Galaxy. He opened up new research areas well before they became fashionable and set the stage for the explosive growth of infrared astronomy in the last two decades of the 20th century.
Martin's group at Cornell made seminal contributions to our understanding of the Galaxy through its observations of far infrared lines from molecular clouds and the interstellar medium. He was a driving force behind important programs using the Infrared Space Observatory satellite to study the far infrared background radiation and observations of interstellar water, a cooling agent in warm interstellar regions such as the Orion nebula. He distinguished himself as a scientist through a long career combining breadth with depth, delving into many different aspects of astrophysics.
Just as significantly, Harwit's books have had an enormous impact beyond his research specialty. His textbook, Astrophysical Concepts, influenced generations of young students by introducing them to the principles needed for a deep understanding of modern astrophysics. His book, Cosmic Discovery, has been equally influential among policy makers seeking the best ways to invest in new astronomical research. An important outgrowth of his approach was to show that rapid growth of astronomical knowledge resulted primarily from discoveries made by non-astronomers using their unique technical skills to examine the universe in new ways. It is now accepted wisdom that the promise of a new observing approach increases proportionally to its exploration of the uncharted territory known from Harwit's writing as "parameter space."
Harwit carried his high standards for scholarship to the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., where he served as Director from 1987 to 1995. While there, he influenced millions of visitors through his thoughtful approach to exhibits that illuminated for the public how important advances in science are made. His courageous advocacy using historical research to formulate public policy is a fine example of putting principle above politics despite enormous popular resistance. Similar advocacy of scholarship as applied to other causes currently in the public arena will be needed to preserve the rich society we call civilization against threats both natural and man made.
His original ideas, scholarship, and thoughtful advocacy are the elements that helped make modern astronomy one of the richest and most influential of sciences. It is with admiration and deep respect that the Astronomical Society of the Pacific awards the 2007 Bruce Medal for lifetime achievement to Martin Harwit.