Innovator in Radar Meteorology and Pioneer in Planetary Remote Sensing to Receive Honors from National Academy of Engineering


Fri, October 14, 2011

Washington, DC, October 14, 2011 —

During its 2011 annual meeting, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) will recognize two individuals for extraordinary impact through work in the engineering profession. NAE will give the Academy’s Founders Award to David Atlas, often called the “Father of Radar Meteorology,” for developments in radar technology used in storm detection and warning. Charles Elachi will receive the Arthur M. Bueche Award for his leadership of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and for advances in space-based radar. The awards will be presented at a ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 16.

David Atlas, a member of the NAE, was chosen to receive the Founders Award for “five decades of research, innovation, and development, leading to operational weather radar systems that have improved aviation safety and weather-related safety for millions worldwide.” The award recognizes outstanding professional, educational, and personal achievements to the benefit of society, and it includes $2,500 and a gold medallion. 

Atlas pioneered the use of Doppler radar in an array of meteorological scenarios. These include measuring winds in ordinary storms as well as hurricanes and tornadoes. He and his team conducted research that has played a major role in the adoption of the national network of NEXRAD Doppler radars used by the National Weather Service. These radars and similar ones throughout the world have provided remarkable insights into the nature of storm systems, leading to advanced methodologies for prediction and warning. 

Atlas’ professional career began in 1945 as a radar weather officer in the All Weather Flying Division in Ohio where he invented a method for measuring the intensity of storms. That technique was quickly adopted by the aviation industry so that nearly every commercial aircraft was equipped with airborne radar. He then spent 18 years at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory, after which he became a professor and lab director at the University of Chicago. In 1972 he joined the National Center for Atmospheric Research and served as director of both the Atmospheric Technology Division and the National Hail Research Experiment.

In 1977 Atlas became the founding director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he stimulated creation of the first meteorological radar based in space, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM). TRMM, launched in 1997, continues to provide measurements of rainfall over tropical oceans, which are essential to a better understanding of the Earth’s water cycle and climate system.

In addition to membership in the NAE, Atlas has received the Rossby Medal of the American Meteorological Society – an organization for which he served as president in 1975; the Symons Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society; the Losey Medal of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and the Dennis Picard Medal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. He holds 23 patents and has published more than 200 papers, continuing to work actively in the field well into his 80s.

Charles Elachi, also a member of NAE, was selected to receive the Arthur M. Bueche Award, which includes $2,500 and a gold medallion, for “innovations in planetary remote sensing science and technology, and distinguished leadership in creating government, university, and industry partnerships and space technology policies.”

Elachi was a pioneer in the field of spaceborne radar, which allows a more accurate picture of features of a planet’s surface and subsurface, allowing for better study of both the Earth and other objects in space. He has authored more than 200 publications and holds several patents.

Elachi joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 1971 and was named director in 2001, at which time he was also appointed vice president of the California Institute of Technology, where he had taught since 1982. He receives praise from colleagues for re-establishing JPL’s prominence and successfully overseeing important endeavors, including: two Mars Exploration Rovers, each of which have lasted years beyond their expected lifetimes; the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and its moons Titan and Enceladus; and the capture and return to Earth of solar wind by Genesis.

He has used his role at JPL to advocate for deep-space missions and for NASA, serving on several national and international advisory committees. He also formed new partnerships, creating external oversight panels of experts from academe, industry, and other sectors of the government.

Elachi was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News and World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is a fellow of IEEE and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics and is a member of the International Academy of Astronautics. The asteroid 4116 Elachi is named in his honor. He recently received the French Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur, the highest honor bestowed by the French Republic, for his role in building international collaboration in space and Earth exploration.

The National Academy of Engineering is a private, nonprofit institution that provides technology advice under a congressional charter. NAE also salutes leaders in engineering for their lifetime dedication to the field and their commitment to advancing society through great achievements. NAE dedicates more than $1 million annually to recognize these leaders and to bring better understanding of engineering’s importance to society. In addition to the Founders and Bueche awards, NAE presents the Charles Stark Draper Prize, the Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize, and the Bernard M. Gordon Prize. For more information about these awards, please contact Deborah Young, NAE awards administrator, at 202-334-1266, or visit the NAE website at 

Randy Atkins
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