SwRI’s James Burch Receives NASA’s Highest Honor

SwRI’s James Burch Receives NASA’s Highest Honor

Press release from: Southwest Research Institute
Posted: Monday March 28th 2022

Dr. James Burch of the Southwest Research Institute received NASA’s highest honor for non-government employees, his Distinguished Public Service Medal. Burch is recognized for his visionary science mission leadership in studying the interaction of the solar wind with Earth’s and Saturn’s magnetospheres as well as the environments of comets.

“Under his leadership, new generations of scientists have reached their pinnacle,” said Barbara Giles, deputy head of the Geospatial Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “It is difficult to find a scientist who has contributed more to the direction of NASA’s science missions than James Burch. His work had a lasting impact on NASA’s successes in heliophysics, space weather, and planetary science.

Burch has served NASA as a Principal Investigator (PI) on numerous missions and research grants. He designed the concept for NASA’s first middle-class explorer, the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft. He invented several new observation techniques that allowed IMAGE to observe, for the first time, the global structure of plasmas in the Earth’s magnetosphere, profoundly changing the understanding of how space weather affects everyday life on Earth. .

Burch also served as NASA’s Ion and Electron Sensor (IES) PI on the Rosetta mission – the first mission to escort a comet as it orbited the Sun. His instrument observed, again for the first time, how the plasma environment on a comet changes as it approaches the Sun, providing insight into the origin and evolution of our solar system.

He is currently PI of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. The mission’s four spacecraft include 120 instrument components and have revolutionized the understanding of magnetic reconnection in space. This explosive process is responsible for space weather storms, aurora borealis, solar flares and many other phenomena in the universe.

Burch played an important role on several NASA advisory boards, where his leadership and vision helped set the course for the agency’s space physics and aeronomy research for more than two decades. He chaired the National Research Council Committee on Solar and Space Physics and directed more studies for NASA than any other president, past or present. For his years of service, Burch was named a Lifetime National Fellow of the National Academies. Among many other awards and honors, he was recently awarded the American Geophysical Union’s 2021 William Bowie Medal, the organization’s highest honor.

“Dr. Burch has provided technical contributions and leadership to NASA since joining SwRI in 1977. Since then, he has established a premier space research and technology program at SwRI, developed and improved basic theories, led the development and design of many scientific instruments, and served as the principal investigator for national and international agencies,” said Adam L. Hamilton, president and CEO of SwRI. SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division now has more than 460 staff members in eight departments with laboratories in San Antonio as well as Boulder, Colorado; Durham, New Hampshire; and Austin, Texas.

The NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal is the highest form of recognition given to citizens whose distinguished service or vision has contributed to the advancement of NASA and the nation, demonstrating a level of excellence that has had a indelible impact on NASA’s mission success. Another SwRI researcher, Dr. Alan Stern, received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2016 in recognition of his leadership of the New Horizons mission, which returned remarkable images and other data from the Pluto system.

For more information, visit https://www.swri.org/industries/earth-space.


About SwRI:
SwRI is an independent, not-for-profit applied research and development organization based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 3,000 employees and an annual research volume of nearly $726 million. Southwest Research Institute and SwRI are registered trademarks in the US Patent and Trademark Office. For more information, please visit newsroom.swri.org Where www.swri.org.

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