UC Santa Cruz astronomer Jerry Nelson to receive 2012 Franklin Medal

jerry nelson
Jerry Nelson

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has announced that Jerry Nelson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, will receive the 2012 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Electrical Engineering.

Nelson is internationally renowned as a developer of innovative designs for advanced telescopes. The Franklin Institute is honoring him "for his pioneering contributions to the development of segmented-mirror telescopes."

The Franklin Institute awards are among the oldest and most prestigious comprehensive science awards in the world. Since 1824, the institute has honored excellence and achievement in science, engineering, and technology. Nelson will receive the Franklin Medal at an awards ceremony in Philadelphia in April.

Nelson played a central role in the design of the twin Keck Telescopes at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, conceiving the revolutionary segmented design of the Kecks' 10-meter primary mirrors. As founding director of the Center for Adaptive Optics, a National Science Foundation science and technology center headquartered at UC Santa Cruz, Nelson helped pioneer the use of adaptive optics for astronomy, enabling scientists to get sharp images from ground-based telescopes.

He is now project scientist for the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which is currently in the design phase. The TMT will be far more powerful than any existing telescope, its 30-meter primary mirror providing almost ten times the light-gathering capacity of each of the Kecks. Like the Kecks, the TMT mirror will have a segmented design, with 492 individual segments, each 1.45 meters across. All segments will be under precision computer control so that they will work together as a single mirror.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Nelson has received many awards for his achievements, including the 2010 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics from the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the André Lallemand Prize of the French Academy of Sciences, and the American Astronomical Society's Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics. He earned a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. in elementary particle physics from UC Berkeley. Nelson joined the faculty at UC Santa Cruz in 1994.

The Franklin Institute's mission is to inspire an understanding of and passion for science and technology learning. Through its awards, the institute seeks to broaden public awareness and encourage understanding of science and technology. Accordingly, the work of nominated individuals is evaluated on the basis of uncommon insight, skill, and creativity, as well as its ability to impact the future or have some public benefit. More information about the Franklin Institute awards is available at www.fi.edu/franklinawards/index.html.