Keck Telescope Creator To Receive 2012 Franklin Medal

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has announced that Jerry Nelson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, 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.

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 W. M. Keck Observatory operates two 10-meter optical/infrared telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. The twin telescopes feature a suite of advanced instruments including imagers, multi-object spectrographs, high-resolution spectrographs, integral-field spectroscopy and a world-leading laser guide star adaptive optics system which cancels out much of the interference caused by Earth’s turbulent atmosphere. The Observatory is a private 501(c) 3 non-profit organization and a scientific partnership of the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA.

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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.