The Distinguished Alumni Award is the highest honor the Institute bestows upon an alumnus/a. It is in recognition of extraordinary achievement by Caltech graduates in business, community, and professional life. Nominations are made by a faculty and alumni committee and confirmed by the Board of Trustees. This award was initiated as a part of Caltech's 75th anniversary celebration in 1966.
The awards are presented at a ceremony during Caltech's Alumni Seminar Day. This annual event includes a variety of lectures and presentations to alumni and friends by Caltech faculty, researchers, and students.
The Distinguished Alumni are Fernando J. Corbató (BS '50, physics), James Edward Gunn (PhD '66, astronomy and physics), Michael W. Hunkapiller (PhD '74, chemistry), Alan Lightman (MS '73, PhD '74, physics), and Michael Malin (PhD '76, planetary science and geology).
Corbató is a professor emeritus in the electrical engineering and computer science department at MIT. He is known for his pioneering work on the design and development of multiple-access computer systems. He led the development of the Mutiplexed Information and Computing Service (Multics), the precursuor to today's Internet. At a time when computers were viewed as tools and toys for scientists, Multics was a radical idea to provide a reliable, powerful information resource for a large number of people 24 hours a day. The time-sharing operating system was in use around the world from 1965 to 2000, but has since been replaced by more modern hardware.
James Edward Gunn is the Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy at Princeton University Observatory. He has worked as a scientist at JPL and taught at UC Berkeley, Caltech, the University of Washington, the University of Chicago, and Rice University. He was a deputy principal investigator on the Wide Field/Planetary Camera on the Hubble Space Telescope, served as the associate director of the Apache Point Observatory, and is a MacArthur Fellow. He was also a project scientist and technical director for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. His numerous awards and prizes include the Royal Astronomical Society's Gold Medal.
Michael W. Hunkapiller is a senior vice president of Applera Corporation and president of Applied Biosystems Group. He was an inventor of the DNA Sequencer, the technology developed at Caltech that allowed the Human Genome Project to map and sequence the 3 billion base pairs of human DNA. He has also pioneered the development of automated systems for the analysis, synthesis, and purification of proteins, peptides, and nucleic acids. He has more than 20 patents and has published more than 100 scientific papers. These systems are key components of modern molecular biology research laboratories as well as the cornerstone of such applications as forensic DNA typing. They are used in more than 10,000 labs worldwide and have played essential roles in many of the major biomedical discoveries and biotechnology developments in the last decade.
Alan Lightman is a physicist, novelist, and educator. After receiving his PhD in theoretical physics from Caltech in 1974, he taught astronomy and physics at Harvard. In 1989 he went to MIT with a joint appointment in physics and the humanities. His scientific research has been in the area of relativity and astrophysics. In the early 1980s, Lightman began writing essays about the human dimensions of science. His essays and reviews have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books. He is the author of a dozen books, the most recent being the novels The Diagnosis, Good Benito, Einstein's Dreams, and the forthcoming Reunion, which will be available in July. In 1996, Lightman won the Gemant Prize of the American Institute of Physics for linking science with the humanities.
Michael Malin is president and chief scientist of Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., of San Diego. He is principal investigator on the Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter Camera and of the Mars Color Imager/Context Camera investigation on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to be launched in 2005. He has been the principal investigator for cameras and imaging systems on a number of significant missions. His recent research has focused on photogeological studies of Mars and the application of insights gained from terrestrial field work on eolian, fluvial, and mass movement phenomena in Alaska, Iceland, Hawaii, Mount St. Helens, and southern Utah, to martian studies. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1987, and the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 2002.
The five recipients receive a medallion and a framed calligraphy certificate, and their names are placed on a plaque at the Caltech Alumni House.
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