The Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory


Robert Naeye / Rob Gutro
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

May 2, 2008

GREENBELT, Md. - Astrophysicist Dr. Neil Gehrels of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has just been elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Founded in 1780 by John Adams, who later became America's second president, the American Academy honors distinguished scientists, and leaders in public affairs, business, administration, and the arts.

"I am tremendously honored to be elected a member of such a prestigious institution," says Gehrels. "I feel very thankful to be working at a place like Goddard, which gave me the opportunity to be involved in forefront research."

Gehrels serves as principal investigator of NASA's Swift mission, and deputy project scientist of NASA's Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) satellite. Since its launch on November 20, 2004, Swift has greatly advanced astronomers' understanding of stupendously powerful stellar explosions known as gamma-ray bursts. GLAST is NASA's next major space observatory. When launched later this year, it will open a new window on some of the most energetic, exotic, and extreme objects in the universe.

Based in Cambridge, Mass., the American Academy has had members such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, Woodrow Wilson, Ansel Adams, Marian Anderson, Aaron Copland, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Honorary foreign members have included Sir Winston Churchill, T.S. Eliot, and Jawaharlal Nehru.

Gehrels joins his wife, Dr. Ellen D. Williams, as a member of the American Academy. Williams is a solid-state physicist at the University of Maryland, College Park. She was elected as an American Academy Fellow in 2003.

Gehrels and other newly elected members will be formally inducted at the House of the Academy in Cambridge, Mass., on Saturday, October 11, 2008.

"I'm looking forward to joining the same society as B.B. King," says Gehrels, who is a long-time fan of the legendary blues singer and guitarist, who is also being inducted this year. "I used to go to his concerts when I was young, and I'll make a point to meet him if he attends the induction ceremony."

Gehrels earned his Ph.D. in physics from Caltech in 1981, and came to Goddard as a postdoctoral researcher in the same year. He later served as project scientist for NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, which was the second of NASA's four Great Observatories. Among his many other honors, Gehrels and his Swift Science Team won the 2007 Rossi Prize from the American Astronomical Society's High-Energy Astrophysics Division. He is also the 2005 recipient of Goddard's John C. Lindsay Memorial Award for Space Science. Gehrels is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and an Adjunct Professor of Astronomy at the University of Maryland and of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University.

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