Alvin Seiff Memorial Award —

Deadline for nominations for IPPW-11 HAS PASSED.

The Alvin Seiff Memorial Award, presented annually at the IPPW, recognizes and honors a scientist, engineer, technologist, or mission planner for outstanding career achievements and contributions to the understanding of planetary (including Titan) atmospheres utilizing high-speed entry probes.

An important element of the IPPWs is to introduce, motivate, and educate young people in the field of scientific studies of planetary atmospheres. Only by placing today’s research activities in the proper historical context through recognizing, appreciating, and understanding the contributions of our predecessors and utilizing the experience and knowledge gained by past generations of explorers can we define a framework for future explorations.

The young researchers of today will stand on the shoulders of the giants from the past to discover great things in the future. As solar system explorers, we are bound by our colleagues’ achievements and are obligated to further this chain of scientific discovery to the next generation. This award and lecture is named for Alvin Seiff to celebrate his lifetime of dedication to the engineering, technology, and scientific studies of planetary atmospheres and provide young researchers who never had the chance to know him with the opportunity to learn how his work truly influences virtually every aspect of planetary exploration.

Click here to see a list of previous winners.

The Nomination Process —

Anyone may nominate an exceptional candidate for this award. The nomination process consists of filling out the nomination form, preparing a letter of nomination including details of significant career contributions to the understanding of planetary atmospheres utilizing entry/descent probes, and providing at least one additional letter of support. Other supporting materials are encouraged but not required, including additional letters of support, bibliography, abstracts of up to three papers by the nominee, and curriculum vita.

** Deadline for nominations for IPPW-11 (including all supporting material): 
Friday, March 21, 2014. **

Download the nomination form

Incomplete nominations will not be accepted, but the committee will work with nominators to ensure a complete package if requested prior to the deadline. In general a single award is given per year, but non-winning nominees will be carried forward for consideration in future workshops unless withdrawn by the nominator.

All nomination materials should be sent (in electronic form, PDF preferred) to

Michael J. Wright
Chair, Alvin Seiff Award Committee, IPPW-11

Please use the subject line “Alvin Seiff Award Nomination.”

Background —

Alvin SeiffAlvin Seiff’s contributions to the fields of planetary exploration and planetary probe technology, as well as his mentorship of a generation of world-class planetary scientists and technologists, are legendary. His leadership using ballistic ranges and innovative engineering analysis played a key role in determining the aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics of the Apollo entry vehicle used to return astronauts safely from the Moon.

Shortly after President Kennedy told the nation we would put a man on the Moon and bring him home safely within the decade, Seiff assembled a group of young people from across the nation to contribute to this goal. Under his leadership the team made key contributions toward defining the aerodynamics and aerothermodynamics of the Apollo Earth return vehicle.

Later in his career, Seiff pursued his goal of inverting the entry physics “problem” into the “solution” of using the response of an entry probe to determine the structure and composition of an unknown planetary atmosphere. This powerful concept was proven with the Planetary Atmospheric Entry Test (PAET) project, which demonstrated that inversion of the entry physics problem could be done in Earth’s atmosphere.

Seiff was the principal investigator on experiments that utilized the entry-probe-based approach he pioneered to determine the structure of the atmospheres of Mars (Viking), Venus (Pioneer-Venus), and Jupiter (Galileo). Seiff’s work on planetary atmospheres is broadly published in scientific literature and textbooks. He is broadly recognized for his contributions, both nationally and internationally. He won the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement three times and was awarded the honor of the Dryden Lectureship by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for his work on planetary atmospheres.

Seiff was selected in the fall of 2008 to become a member of NASA Ames Hall of Fame, joining the likes of H. Julian Allen (Blunt Body Concept) and Jim Pollack (Planetary Science). This is considered to be a high honor, with only 21 inductees. The purpose of the NASA Ames Hall of Fame is to recognize those whose contributions have had the most sustained and far-reaching influence on the direction and mission of NASA, and/or whose work at NASA Ames has generated fundamental advancements in either a scientific or engineering field.

Perhaps as important as Seiff’s contributions to NASA’s goals in science and engineering was the product of his leadership:  coaching and mentoring. Scores of young engineers and scientists who worked for, and with, Seiff became world-class researchers, leaders, and managers for NASA and the Department of Defense, including an Ames center director, organizational directors, division chiefs, and branch chiefs. Seiff embodied the best of what is expected from a leader and exemplified the saying “give more than you take from the circle of life.” He truly “soared to the stars,” literally touching three planets with his experiments. Seiff gave his best to the international planetary science community. Although he passed away in 2000, his inspiration continues.

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