NEWS | December 14, 2021

NASA Scientists Named AGU 2021 Union Honorees

AGU 2021 Awardees, top from left to right: Andrea Donnellan, James A. Klimchuk, Mei-Ching Hannah Fok, Mian Chin. Bottom from left to right: Brooke Medley, Stanley Sander, Surendra Adhikari, Elizabeth MacDonald.

AGU 2021 Awardees, top from left to right: Andrea Donnellan, James A. Klimchuk, Mei-Ching Hannah Fok, Mian Chin. Bottom from left to right: Brooke Medley, Stanley Sander, Surendra Adhikari, Elizabeth MacDonald. Credit: NASA

Several individuals with NASA affiliations have been named 2021 Union honorees or fellows by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and will receive honors bestowed by AGU for their excellence in scientific research, education, communication, and outreach.

The American Geophysical Union is an organization dedicated to advancing Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs.

There are five NASA awardees for AGU sections that include the cryosphere, geodesy, space physics and aeronomy. AGU sections recognize outstanding work within their fields by annually hosting numerous awards and lectures. Individuals are selected as section honorees on the basis of meritorious work or service toward the advancement and promotion of discovery and solution science.

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Brooke Medley

The Cryosphere Early Career Award was bestowed upon Brooke Medley, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Her focus is using airborne and satellite remote sensing and developing methods to measure processes such as snow accumulation and melt, and how firn compaction causes short-term fluctuations in ice-sheet surface elevation. She also focuses on recent changes in ice-sheet climate. She uses annual records of snow accumulation derived from both shallow firn cores and remotely sensed observations to understand recent changes in the surface climate and to evaluate global and regional atmospheric models of net precipitation where observations are few.

Surendra Adhikari

From the geodesy section, the John Wahr Early Career Award was bestowed upon Surendra Adhikari a glacier physicist and geodesist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Dr. Adhikari studies the mechanics of glacier flow and its interactions with solid Earth and sea level across timescales.

He has extensive experience observing and modeling glaciological and related processes and has published several high-impact papers on topics ranging from kilometer-scale subglacial processes to inherently global-scale processes of Earth’s gravitation, rotation, and deformation. The recipient of several early-career awards, Dr. Adhikari is a member of the NASA Sea Level Change Team, the GRACE and GRACE-FO Science teams, and NASA Earth’s Surface and Interior Science Team.

The space physics and aeronomy section presented awards to three NASA Goddard scientists. Two were also Bowie Lecture awardees. AGU inaugurated the Bowie Lectures in 1989 to commemorate the 50th presentation of the William Bowie Medal, which is named for AGU’s first president and is the highest honor given by the organization.

Elizabeth MacDonald

Elizabeth MacDonald, research space physicist, received the Richard Carrington Education and Public Outreach Award. Dr. MacDonald has been studying aurora, magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, and associated spacecraft instrumentation for more than twenty years. Her experience ranges over the complete cycle of instrument production and scientific analysis, including design and modeling, integration and testing, rocket and satellite operations, and in situ scientific data analysis. These skills and a keen research interest in the near-Earth plasma environment allow her to make key contributions to technology development, magnetosphere-ionosphere science, and space weather international priorities.

Since 2012, she has founded and led the award-winning multidisciplinary, innovative, global, real-time Aurorasaurus project, the world’s first citizen science project relating to the auroras spanning geospace, informal science education, and human-centered computing. Dr. MacDonald is the author or co-author of more than 40 publications and has more than 1000 citations, has been an American Geophysical Union member since 1998, was elected Magnetospheric Section Secretary in 2017, and refereed for 6 international journals. She has mentored more than 20 individuals.

The Space Physics & Aeronomy Richard Carrington (SPARC) Education & Public Outreach Award is presented annually to a senior scientist for significant impact on the public’s understanding of space physics and aeronomy through their education or outreach activities. It is named for Richard Carrington, an English amateur astronomer who was the first person to observe a large solar flare in 1859. Recipients of the SPARC Award exhibit go above and beyond their job title in their education and outreach endeavors.

Mei-Ching Hannah Fok

Mei-Ching Hannah Fok, a research space scientist, received the James Van Allen Lecture award and was a Bowie Lecture award winner. Dr. Fok’s main research interests are studies of the radiation belts and ring current during geomagnetic active periods, understanding the mechanisms responsible for their intensification and decay by numerical modeling and data analysis. She developed a complex model that can compute and predict the energetic plasma fluxes in the radiation belts and ring current region.

Dr. Fok was a participating scientist of the IMAGE mission and is the project scientist of the TWINS mission. She is heavily involved in neutral atom imaging. The modeling tools she developed have contributed greatly in interpreting images from the neutral atom imagers on IMAGE and TWINS. Dr. Fok is also involved in the Van Allen Probes mission. Her CIMI model is running in real time to predict energetic ion and electron fluxes that Van Allen Probes satellites would observe.

The James Van Allen Lecture is presented two out of every three years to a space scientist who has made significant contributions to the field of magnetospheric science. It is named to honor the life and work of astrophysicist and space pioneer James A. Van Allen.

James A. Klimchuk

James A. Klimchuk, a research astrophysicist was awarded the Eugene Parker Lecture award and also a Bowie lecture award winner. Dr. Klimchuk uses a combination of observations, theory, and numerical modeling to study the properties of the outer solar atmosphere – the corona. He is especially interested in how the corona is heated to multimillion degrees, 1,000 times hotter than the solar surface.

Dr. Klimchuk has held numerous elected and appointed leadership positions, including president of AGU’s space physics and aeronomy section, chair of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society, and president of Commission 10 and vice-president of Division II of the International Astronomical Union. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and recipient of NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal and John C. Lindsay Award for Space Science.

The Eugene Parker Lecture is presented two out of every three years to a space scientist who has made significant contributions to the fields of solar and heliospheric science. It is named to honor the life and work of solar astrophysicist Eugene N. Parker, a pioneer in the study of solar wind. The lecture is presented during the AGU Fall Meeting. The Parker Lecture is also part of the Bowie Lecture Series.

Three NASA scientists were awarded fellowship status for 2021. One fellow is from Goddard and two are from JPL. AGU noted that Fellows have made outstanding achievements and contributions by pushing the frontiers of our science forward. They have also embodied AGU’s shared vision of a thriving, sustainable, and equitable future for all powered by discovery, innovation, and action. Equally important is that they conducted themselves with integrity, respect, diversity, and collaboration while creating deep engagement in education and outreach. Since 1962, AGU has elected fewer than 0.1% of members to join this prestigious group of individuals.

Dr. Mian Chin

Dr. Mian Chin is a physical scientist in the Atmospheric Chemistry and Dynamics Laboratory, Earth Science Division of NASA Goddard. She leads a research team to simulate global and regional aerosols and trace gases and analyze data from satellite, aircraft, and surface sites. She joined the NASA Goddard in 2003, concentrating on atmospheric model development and satellite data analysis. Her current research includes aerosol-cloud-chemistry-climate interactions, regional and global air quality, transport of aerosols and trace gases, aerosol impacts on global energy balance, and modeling and analysis of data from satellite, ground-based, and airborne observations. Mian and her Goddard group developed one of the first global aerosol computer models, called the GOCART model.

Dr. Andrea Donnellan

Dr. Andrea Donnellan, a geophysicist at JPL, studies how Earth’s surface movement results in things like earthquakes, plate tectonics, and landslides. She was one of the first to publish a study using GPS measurements to identify and determine how fast buried faults move. Dr. Donnellan is also the principal investigator of QUAKES-I, an airborne instrument designed to produce topographic images of an area to help researchers study and respond to natural disasters like earthquakes.

Working with the Earth Applied Sciences' Disasters response efforts, in 2019, she led a series of uncrewed aircraft flights to create 3D maps following the Ridgecrest earthquakes in Southern California and in 2020 conducted similar work in creating 3D maps of smoke from California wildfires. She has a glacier in Antarctica named after her for her work there and holds numerous awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award.

Dr. Stanley Sander

Dr. Stanley Sander’s career has had three major focuses connected with atmospheric trace gases: remote sensing of gases that affect air quality, stratospheric ozone, and climate change; laboratory studies of chemical reactions of these gases; and contributions to the formulation and success of NASA satellite missions that monitor some of the same gases.

Dr. Sander established and operates a facility on Mount Wilson in Southern California that measures emissions from sources in the Los Angeles basin below. His laboratory work has focused on urban air quality, transport of pollutants, wildfire emissions, and processes that determine the lifetimes of short-lived greenhouse gases including methane and ozone. He is the author or co-author of more than 170 peer-reviewed papers and recipient of many awards, winning NASA's Exceptional Achievement Medal in 2011 and in 2015.

AGU is hosting an online celebration to formally recognize this year’s recipients during #AGU21 Fall Meeting. Additional details on the event can be found at

Established in 1962, the union fellows program recognizes AGU members who made exceptional contributions to Earth and space sciences as valued by their peers. The union fellow honor is a tribute awarded to eligible AGU members that have attained acknowledged eminence in the geosciences and are carefully vetted by section and focus group committees. The fellows program serves to meet the need of identifying authorities who could advise, upon request, the various government agencies and other organizations outside the Earth and space sciences.

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News Media Contacts

Rob Gutro
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Jane J. Lee / Ian J. O’Neill
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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