NRAO Astronomer Kenneth Kellermann to Receive ASP’s Prestigious Bruce Gold Medal

Kenneth Kellermann

Kenneth Kellermann, Ph.D., senior scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Va., is the recipient of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s (ASP) 2014 Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal, the society’s highest honor. He is being recognized for his lifetime achievements in founding radio astronomy as a major branch of global astronomy and for contributing to both the development of modern cosmology and to the invention of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI).

“I am truly honored to receive this award,” said Kellermann. “It’s both exciting and humbling to be included among such a group of prominent scientists, especially the three earlier medal recipients who were radio astronomers, the most recent being John Bolton who was my thesis and post-doctoral advisor. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to use some fabulous instruments at Caltech, in Australia, and at NRAO, and also to have worked with some outstanding colleagues and students.”

Kellermann earned his S.B. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge in 1959 and his Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in 1963. He was one of the first to use the Owens Valley Radio Observatory interferometer to study both galactic and extragalactic radio sources. He did his postdoctoral research at the CSIRO (Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization) Division of Radiophysics, where he studied planets as well as radio galaxies with the then-new Parkes Radio Telescope.

Kellermann joined the NRAO in 1965. During his tenure, he served as NRAO’s acting assistant director for Green Bank Operations, chief scientist, and head of the observatory’s New Initiatives Office. He has also held a concurrent appointment as research professor of astronomy at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. During 1978 and 1979, while on leave from NRAO, Kellermann served as director of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

Starting in the late 1960s, Kellermann — along with Barry Clark, Marshall Cohen, and other colleagues — led the development of VLBI, a technique that allows many widely spaced radio antennas to function as a single telescope. Their efforts soon enabled astronomical observations with a resolution of only one 1000th of an arc second (an arc second is an angle equivalent to one 3600th of a degree), which far surpassed what can be achieved with optical telescopes.

Later Kellermann led the effort to design and build the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), a dedicated series of ten identical 25-meter antennas spread across the United States from Hawaii to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Kellermann has also been a strong advocate for using radio telescopes in space along with terrestrial ones to achieve even greater resolution. He also was involved in the ongoing international project to develop the Square Kilometer Array.

Kellermann shared in the discovery of apparent faster-than-light motion (an illusion caused by radio-emitting jets that move so fast they nearly catch up with their own radio emission). He also published the first paper in a refereed journal reporting on a radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He has been very active in national and international science policy, serving on a number of committees and panels. He has also contributed to documenting the history of radio astronomy, editing books, writing articles, and promoting the development of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory Archives.

Kellermann will be honored at the ASP’s Annual Awards Dinner, which takes place during the ASP’s Annual Meeting, 4-6 August 2014 in Burlingame, California.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Contact: Charles Blue, NRAO Public Information Officer

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