Press Release

Astronomer Marcia Rieke Elected to National Academy of Sciences

By SpaceRef Editor
May 3, 2012
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Marcia J. Rieke, a Regents’ Professor in the University of Arizona’s department of astronomy, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences on May 1.

Election to membership in the academy is considered one of the highest honors a U.S. scientist or engineer can achieve. Rieke will be inducted into the academy next April during its 150th annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

Rieke was elected along with University of Arizona biologist Roy Parker, bringing the number of UA faculty members elected to NAS to 14. There currently are 2,152 active NAS members. Among the NAS’s renowned members are Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright and Alexander Graham Bell. Nearly 200 living academy members have won Nobel Prizes.

“We are delighted that not one, but two of our most outstanding faculty members have been elected to join the National Academy this year,” said UA Senior Vice President for Research Leslie Tolbert. “Roy Parker and Marcia Rieke are stellar scientists who have spent the major parts of their careers right here, and their election to the National Academy is a tremendous honor for the University as well as for them.”

“Both of them work in areas of fundamental science,” Tolbert added. “Their research on fundamental properties of matter and life has shaped how we think about early events in the universe and the ways cells regulate the expression of their genes.”

Rieke joined the UA’s department of astronomy in 1979 after receiving her doctorate in physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology three years prior.

Rieke has been heralded for the international effort that she has led on the Spitzer space telescope to conduct very deep surveys at far-infrared wavelengths, which will allow astronomers to trace the history of star formation back in time 10 billion years.

Together with her husband, Regents’ Professor George Rieke, she co-authored a paper on the infrared interstellar extinction law — one of the most cited papers in all of astronomy. Many of her most-cited papers on radiation from galactic nuclei and starbursts in colliding galaxies are classics in the field.

Rieke is the principal investigator for the near-infrared camera, or NIRCam, on the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope ever conceived and scheduled for launch in 2018. NIRCam will study infrared light.

Because the universe is expanding, light from the earliest galaxies have been stretched, or “redshifted,” from visible light into infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye. NIRCam will be able to visualize infrared light, making it essential to examining the early phases of star and galaxy formation, and studying the shapes and colors of distant galaxies. NIRCam will also help astronomers learn the age of stars in nearby galaxies.

Rieke first heard about her nomination from her husband, George, who was elected to the NAS last year.

“During the National Academy membership meeting this morning, George snuck out of the room and called me,” Rieke said. “I’m still in a state of shock. I hope the world recognizes the caliber of the research that is going on here on our campus.”

In the field of astronomical instrumentation, Rieke is perhaps best known internationally for her work on space infrared missions and is the principal investigator for the Near Infrared Camera. The camera will be installed on the next generation of astronomical observatory developed by NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope, and promises to provide the most sensitive view of the early universe ever achieved.

An additional measure of Rieke’s international stature is demonstrated by her service as the vice-chair of program prioritization panel for he Astro2010 NAS Decadal Survey Committee, an exercise in planning mission and facilities for the next 10 years. Billions of dollars in federal investments will be based on her committee’s work, where she helped orchestrate the efforts of hundreds of researchers in the field and judged more than 100 project concepts.

In 2007, Rieke was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, joining the ranks of former vice presidents and Supreme Court justices, Nobel and Academy Award winners and prominent executives.

Daniel Stolte
University Communications
+1 (520) 626-4402

SpaceRef staff editor.