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Houck receives Weber award for career of instrument development

James Houck, the Kenneth A. Wallace Professor of Astronomy, is the recipient of the 2008 Joseph Weber Award for Astronomical Instrumentation from the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Houck was cited for his distinguished record of developing infrared instruments for observations from both the ground and space, culminating in the infrared spectrograph on the Spitzer Space Telescope.

The award recognizes Houck "for his extraordinary contributions over nearly four decades to major instrumentation for infrared astronomy."

The citation adds: "It is no exaggeration to say that without Dr. Houck's contributions, modern IR [infrared astronomy] would never have reached its current level of maturity."

The Weber award recognizes individuals of any nationality "for the design, invention or significant improvement of instrumentation ... leading to advances in astronomy." Houck received the award at the annual meeting of the AAS in Austin, Texas, earlier this month.

The infrared spectrograph, one of three instruments on the orbiting telescope, detects infrared radiation from distant objects, allowing researchers to determine their chemical composition based on the way the emitted light is distributed along the spectrum. The spectrograph, which is 100 times more sensitive than its predecessors, gives astronomers a unique view that penetrates thick clouds of dust deep in the universe, offering new insight into such processes as the formation of stars, galaxies and planetary systems.

The Spitzer Space Telescope, the fourth and last of NASA's Great Observatories, was launched in 2003 and is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. built the infrared spectrograph under Houck's direction.

Houck, who joined the Cornell faculty in 1969, also received NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 2005 for his work on the spectrograph, as well as the same medal in 1984 for developing the detectors on the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, Spitzer's predecessor. He is also a past recipient of Cornell's Clark Award for Distinguished Teaching.

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