Donald Gurnett was a pioneer in the field of plasma wave research whose innovative instrumentation captured a profusion of data during more than 30 exceptional space research missions, including Voyager, Cassini, and Galileo.
A scientific scholar through and through, the longtime professor in the University of Iowa Department of Physics and Astronomy—who died in January 2022—also gave generously to ensure the future of space research at Iowa.
James Van Allen's discovery of Earth's radiation belts deepened Gurnett's interest in space plasma physics, inspiring him to join Van Allen's research group. Throughout his extraordinary 60-year career, Gurnett went on to establish the field of space plasma wave research, leading a team that developed numerous plasma wave instruments—including one that proved Voyager I had entered interstellar space. He also mentored more than 60 graduate students and authored or co-authored two textbooks and more than 750 publications.
"Don made tremendous contributions to faculty life, student experience, and research at Iowa," says Philip Kaaret, professor and chair of the university's physics and astronomy department.
Physicists, astronomers, and scientists around the world admire Gurnett, who also was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He and his wife generously established the Donald A. and Marie B. Gurnett Chair of Physics at the University of Iowa in 2015.
NASA senior advisor James L. Green (79PhD), Gurnett's former student, recognized his professor's leadership in international space research—and his dedication to students: "He advised and mentored an entire generation of graduate students. It is important to recognize his lifetime of excellence and achievements in space science, as well as the service he offered the UI, the planetary science community, and the nation."
Since 1963, the University of Iowa has annually recognized accomplished alumni and friends with Distinguished Alumni Awards. Awards are presented in seven categories: Achievement, Service, Hickerson Recognition, Faculty, Staff, Recent Graduate, and Friend of the University.