NASA JPL Scientist Receives Presidential Early Career Award

Josh Willis

Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has been honored by President Barack Obama with the 2009 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Willis is one of 100 beginning researchers to receive the 2009 award. This year's recipients also include three faculty members with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, which manages JPL for NASA. The honorees will receive their awards this fall at a White House ceremony.

A researcher in JPL's Ocean Circulation Group, Willis uses satellite data as well as data collected at sea to study the impact of global warming on the ocean. His studies of ocean warming and sea level rise have been widely used by colleagues around the world and were cited in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report shared the 2007 Nobel Peace prize with Vice President Al Gore. Willis frequently lectures to the public and works with students to educate them about climate change issues and human impacts on global warming.

Established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers annually honors researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America's leadership in science and technology and contributing to the awarding agencies' missions. The awards are made to those whose innovative work is expected to lead to future breakthroughs.

Recipients are selected from among nine federal departments and agencies based on two criteria: pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology, and a commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education or community outreach. Winning scientists and engineers receive up to a five-year research grant to further their study in support of critical government missions.

"These extraordinarily gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country," Obama said in a White House news release. "With their talent, creativity and dedication, I am confident that they will lead their fields in new breakthroughs and discoveries and help us use science and technology to lift up our nation and our world."

Willis holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Houston; a Master of Science degree in physics from the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, Calif.; and a doctorate in oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He joined JPL in 2004. Previous honors include JPL's Charles K. Witham Environmental Stewardship Award.

He and his wife, Dr. Dixie Aragaki, live in Los Angeles.

The three Caltech recipients are John O. Dabiri, an expert in biological propulsion who studies mechanics and dynamics of biological propulsion and fluid dynamic energy conversion; Beverley J. McKeon, who studies experimental manipulation of wall-bounded flows for improved flow characteristics; and Joel A. Tropp, who is developing new algorithms for solving inverse problems, a basic challenge that arises throughout the mathematical sciences.

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