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University of Iowa News Release


Feb. 9, 2009

Gurnett to discuss Iowa exploration of space in Presidential Lecture Feb. 15

The excitement and knowledge gained during more than 50 years of space exploration will be the subject of the 2009 University of Iowa Presidential Lecture by Donald A. Gurnett, at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15, in the 4th Floor assembly hall of the Levitt Center for University Advancement, Park Road at North Riverside Drive.

"From the Dawn of the Space Age to the Edge of the Solar System" is the title of the free, public lecture by Gurnett, who is James A. Van Allen - Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver Professor of Physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The program will include a musical prelude to be performed by Maurita Murphy Mead, professor of clarinet in the UI School of Music, accompanied on the piano by Shari Rhoads, lecturer in the School of Music.

UI President Sally Mason will introduce Gurnett. Immediately following the lecture, a reception will be held in the Wyrick Rotunda of the Levitt Center.

A world leader in the field of space plasma physics, Gurnett in 1998 was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the nation's most distinguished scientific organization.

In 2004, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) for bringing science into the public and private sectors. His collection of more than 40 years of space sounds served as the inspiration for "Sun Rings," a multimedia piece composed by Terry Riley and performed by the Kronos Quartet to international acclaim.

A UI faculty member since 1965, Gurnett's early discoveries and investigations included observations of intense radio emissions from the Earth's aurora. He used data from UI-built Voyager instruments to make the first observations of plasma waves and low-frequency radio emissions in the magnetospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and discovered lightning in the atmospheres of Jupiter and Neptune. He currently has instruments aboard the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft, which is searching for underground water at Mars, and NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which began a four-year exploration of Saturn and its moons in July 2004.

Gurnett began his science and engineering career by working on spacecraft electronics design as a student employee in the UI physics department in 1958, shortly after the launch of the first spacecraft, Explorer 1. After serving as project engineer for two UI spacecraft projects in the early 1960s and receiving his Bachelor of Science degree from the UI College of Engineering in 1962, he switched to physics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences where he received his master's degree in 1963 and his doctorate, under the direction of Van Allen, in 1965.

He has participated in more than 35 major spacecraft projects, including the early Injun series of Iowa satellites, the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 flights to the outer planets, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and the Cassini mission to Saturn. The author or co-author of more than 400 scientific publications, he spent one year on leave as an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist at the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany and one year on leave as a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Gurnett, 68 and a native of Fairfax, Iowa, has received numerous awards for his teaching and research. These include: Iowa Governor's Science Achievement Award (1987); Regents Award for Faculty Excellence (1994); and in 2004 he received the Hannes Alfvén Medal from the European Geosciences Union (EGU) for his contributions to solar-terrestrial and planetary solar system sciences.

Gurnett has been the advisor for 52 student thesis projects.

The Presidential Lecture series provides an opportunity for distinguished faculty to present significant aspects of their work to members of the university community and to the general public. The university established this annual series to encourage intellectual communication among academic disciplines, and to provide a public forum for university scholarship, research, and creative achievement.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all UI-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires reasonable accommodations in order to participate in this program, please contact the President's Office in advance at 319-335-0011. The lecture will be interpreted in American Sign Language.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,