Arthur M. Bueche Award

2017 Arthur M. Bueche Award Acceptance Remarks

Dr. Louis J. Lanzerotti 
2017 Arthur M. Bueche Award Winner
Acceptance Remarks 

Thank you to the Awards Committee, its chair Andrei Broder, NAE chair Gordon England and NAE president Dan Mote. The total surprise phone call from President Mote in early June informing me of my selection for the 2017 Arthur M. Bueche Award was exceeded only by my complete surprise in 1988 at my election to the NAE. I had absolutely no indication of my nomination in either case—demonstrating that the NAE has an amazing capacity for keeping confidentialities!

The Space Age was less than a decade old when I was offered the opportunity to join Bell Laboratories after graduate school. Four Bell Labs alums are previous recipients of the Bueche Award; I am honored to be included among them. Bell Labs fostered a collaborative technical culture whereby a vast array of practical telecommunications problems presented challenges whose solutions often led to new scientific understandings. I soon learned that the conventional linear model view of unfettered pure research leading to applications is not the only path to practical beneficial outcomes for society, or for a company. It may not even be the best path, as my Bell Labs experience taught. The necessity of finding and designing engineering solutions to problems arising in a business often fosters research that can lead to new fundamental understandings.

I was fortunate throughout my career at Bell Labs, and now at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, as well as the numerous organizations with which I have collaborated, to be surrounded and stimulated by exceptionally talented, committed, and congenial colleagues, friends, and students.  I thank them all for their friendships and collaborations. 

In the mid-1840s William Henry Barlow, superintendent engineer of the Midland Railway company in England, measured “spontaneous” currents that disturbed the lines of the electrical telegraph that paralleled the rail tracks from Derby to Birmingham and Derby to Rugby. As a good engineer, and as he recorded in his publication,[1] he set up special measurements to understand the phenomena—and, as an engineer, to potentially effect design changes and/or mitigate around the currents. Barlow discovered that “in every case that came under [his] observation, the telegraph needles have been deflected whenever aurora has been visible.” The complex processes that couple aurora to the telegraph lines were not by any measure unraveled by Barlow’s engineering investigations. But the investigations led to fundamental research that continues to today. I consider Barlow’s investigations to be the inaugural study of space weather impacts on human technical systems.

In December 1901 Marconi’s trans-Atlantic radio feat opened a much wider bandwidth for telegraphic and later telephonic transmissions than long cables allowed. Marconi wrote that “times of bad fading [of radio signals] practically always coincide with the appearance of large sunspots and intense aurora-boreali….” He noted that these are “the same periods when cables and landlines experience difficulties or are thrown out of action.”2

The lesson is that since the development of the electrical telegraph in the 1840s, space weather processes have affected the design, implementation, and operation of many engineered systems, at first on Earth and now in space.

As the complexities of such systems increase, as new technologies are invented, engineered, and employed, and as humans have ventured beyond Earth’s surface, both human-built systems and humans themselves become more susceptible to the effects of Earth’s space environment.

Arthur Clarke and John Pierce did not expect the space environment to be anything but benign when they proposed their Earth-circling communications satellites. Because of James Van Allen’s discovery of intense trapped radiation around Earth, AT&T instrumented its Telstar 1 communications satellite with solid-state particle radiation detectors to measure the environment Telstar traversed. The U.S. Starfish Prime high-altitude nuclear test occurred on July 9, 1962, the day before Telstar’s launch. Telstar’s radiation detectors provided superb measurements of the artificial radiation belt produced by Starfish. And the detectors provided data for me to analyze when I arrived at Bell Labs and began work on building space weather particle detectors for NASA’s geosynchronous test satellites ATS-1 and ATS-3 and two NASA satellites circling Earth in interplanetary space.

A huge solar event in August 1972 produced ground currents that overwhelmed an AT&T cable powering system in Illinois. This outage had critical implications for both civilian and national security interests, and I participated for a number of years in wide-ranging briefings. Analyses with colleagues of telecom and geophysical data from this event led to important engineering design changes in cable powering systems. These changes prevented further AT&T outages, including a near miss in the first trans-Atlantic fiber system from a solar event in March 1989.  This was an event that brought down the electrical grid in Quebec and fried a large electrical power transformer at a nuclear station in New Jersey. Bell Labs instituted a program for electrically monitoring at high precision key Atlantic and Pacific ocean cables in the context of solar and geophysical conditions.

I was asked in the mid-1970s to join the NASA Physical Sciences Committee, at the time the external advisory committee to the NASA associate administrator for science. At this time there were resource pressures on NASA science, and the opening of space research to a wider range of disciplines. The Committee had many members who espoused the belief that studies of “particles and fields” in space around Earth should be finished—NASA research resources would best be spent on other scientific topics. As the principal committee person in this allegedly obsolete research field I was asked to make a presentation on the subject. My talk was equally devoted to frontier areas of space plasma physics research and the practical implications of NASA’s research in the field, past and future. A Senate staff person was in the public audience and was apparently very taken with the practical applications of this research in NASA’s program. As a consequence I was asked to testify at a Senate NASA hearing. The eventual result was the establishment of a division for this research area under the NASA associate administrator, an area encompassing both fundamental science and its applications. This unit continues today, currently named the NASA Heliophysics Division.

External advice from the National Academies since the earliest days of the civil space program had been incorporated in the Space Science Board (the SSB) and the Space Applications Board (the SAB), as well as in the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. When I was asked in 1988 to chair the SSB, the demarcation between applications and science was becoming somewhat fuzzy for several space research disciplines. With the SSB I embarked on nearly a yearlong examination of the roles of the SSB and SAB in the Academies. The result is the Space Studies Board of today, retaining the SSB acronym but now encompassing engineering and applications as well as science in those disciplines where such overlaps naturally occur, such as space weather.

The decision by the NASA administrator in January 2004 to forgo the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing and the installation of new instrumentation caused consternation in the wider public arena, to say nothing of uproar in the astronomy community. Under an urgent Congressional request, the National Academies formed a committee, which I was privileged to chair.  The committee was to evaluate the scientific merits of continuing Hubble science should servicing and instrument upgrades occur, and to assess the engineering challenges and risks of human servicing (robotic servicing had been proposed as an alternative by the NASA administrator and was being pursued by the agency).

The committee’s intense work concluded that the fundamental science imperatives for maintenance servicing and instrument upgrades were unassailable. Hubble was not designed for robotic servicing; intensive engineering study of this option by the committee demonstrated its difficulty and complexity, if not near infeasibility. The committee concluded that human servicing, using the extensive NASA experience with human flight, was feasible and should be pursued.

I presented the committee’s results to the NASA administrator and several of his staff in a small NASA conference room on a quite cold, dark December 2004 evening.  The administrator stopped listening after the third page, which presented the committee’s recommendations that included human servicing.   Accompanying me out of the very difficult briefing where the administrator had not said more than a few words, the associate administrator for science said to me, “Lou, you have just killed Hubble.”  Well, we all know now that Hubble, after human servicing and upgraded instruments, thrives today, continuing to produce astounding new scientific results.

In closing I must acknowledge that my technical and volunteer contributions in engineering and science have been possible only because of the support and love of my wife, Mary Yvonne DeWolf. For the 52-plus years of our marriage she has managed both to keep our family functioning and to pursue her parallel 40-year career as a PhD physical chemist. Her health problems in the past year have slowed her significantly, but her strong spirit and support continue.

Again, I am deeply grateful for being honored with the 2017 NAE Arthur M. Bueche Award. Thank you.

Louis J. Lanzerotti


[1] Barlow, W. H., On the spontaneous electrical currents observed in the wires of the electric telegraph, Transactions of the Royal Society, 139, 61-72, 1849.

2 Marconi, G., Radio Communication, Proc. IRE, 16, 40-69, 1928,