UCSD Scientists to Receive Medal From Reagan

Times Staff Writer

World-renowned astronomer E. Margaret Burbidge and pioneer geophysicist Walter H. Munk, both of UC San Diego, are among 19 American scientists--eight from California--who will receive the prestigious National Medal of Science from President Reagan on Wednesday in Washington, it was announced Friday.

Burbidge, whose career spans almost half a century and whose eyes still sparkle when talking about the stars, said Friday she was thrilled at her selection for America’s highest scientific honor. Both she and Munk, who is vacationing in Haiti this week, were informed of their awards in mid-November.

The medal was established by Congress in 1959 for individuals who have made outstanding contributions to various scientific fields. There have been 160 medal winners named by Presidents over a 25-year period, based on recommendations from a special committee of the National Science Foundation.

Burbidge traces her fascination with the universe to her childhood in Davenport, England, when she discovered that she enjoyed large numbers such as the trillions of miles used in measuring distances to stars.


Those early days of star-gazing blossomed into a career exploring a multitude of topics in cosmology, including the nature of quasars, the brilliant objects that generate tremendous amounts of energy and travel at speeds approaching that of light.

Burbidge now heads the UC San Diego Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. She was president of the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest organization for scientists, in 1981. She has played a leading role in planning a major experiment to be placed aboard the space telescope to be launched next year by the United States.

“We expect to find some spectacular things,” Burbidge said Friday, listing activities such as measuring the universe more precisely than possible from Earth, determining sources of radiation from nearby galaxies and narrowing the time scale for the birth of the universe.

Though she has played a role in almost all of the many advances astronomy has made during the last quarter-century, Burbidge said she still subscribes to the philosophy of “conscious expectation of the unexpected.”


“I don’t like to think we’d ever come to the end of all that can be found out about the universe,” she said. “I’d like to think there will always be new surprises.”

The Vienna-born Munk pioneered the use of high-speed computers in analyzing geophysical information. He has studied ocean tides, wave action, tidal waves, litter at sea and the rotation of the Earth. Munk is with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The other California recipients are: Paul Berg, professor of biochemistry at Stanford University, for his work in genetics; William R. Hewlett, vice chairman of the Hewlett-Packard Co. of Palo Alto, for his work in electronics and with semiconductors; George C. Pimentel, director of the chemical bio-dynamics laboratory at UC Berkeley, where he developed the first chemically pumped laser; Frederick Reines, professor of physics at UC Irvine, for his discovery of the free neutrino, a basic building block of matter; J. Robert Schrieffer, director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara, and Richard N. Zare, chemistry professor at Stanford, for his work with laser-induced fluorescence.