Johannes Geiss 90th Birthday

External scientific member of the MPS celebrates his 90th birthday on 4 September 2016

September 04, 2016
Johannes Geiss is one of the pioneers of the exploration of our solar system and an external scientific member of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen.  He began his academic career more than half a century ago at the University of Göttingen. He became known in worldwide space research in the 1960s by measuring the solar wind, a continuous flow of electrically charged particles emitted by the Sun, which was recorded by instruments of the Apollo mission on the Moon. Johannes Geiss was one of the main players defining the scientific program of the European Space Agency (ESA) and holds an honorary directorship at the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern today where he is one of the founding fathers. He untiringly supports the promotion of fundamental research and its implementation to the benefit of the society as a whole. He turned 90 years old on the 4th of September 2016.

One fundamental focus of Johannes Geiss’ work is the investigation of the composition of celestial bodies in order to better understand their formation, development and present condition. In the early 1950s he already began his academic career by undertaking his doctoral course in Physics at the University of Göttingen with the later Nobel-Laureate Wolfgang Paul. Subsequently, he worked at the Universities of Bern and Chicago and was one of the co-founders of the newly-emerging field of isotope-geochronology. His research fields included the determination of meteorites’ ages and the isotopic compositions of terrestrial ores, among others.

After his stay at the University of Miami, he started in the early 1960s the establishment of a laboratory for extraterrestrial research at the Physics Institute of the University of Bern that was to investigate meteorites and samples of lunar soil. This was followed by brilliant experiments with the Apollo missions to the Moon, which contributed to the measurement of the elemental and isotopic composition of the solar wind. The success of the Apollo experiments established the reputation of Bern’s Physics Institute as a worldwide institute for space research and laid the foundation for several subsequent innovative and very successful space experiments. These were successfully used to measure the composition of matter in the Earth environment, the Sun, planets, comets and interstellar gas. These instruments provided, among other things, the most comprehensive measurements so far of the composition and origin of the solar wind and the composition of the Sun.

A joint effort with scientists from the University of Maryland under his supervision was the development of Time-of-Flight mass spectrometers which measured the mass and electrical charge of plasma particles in space. These instruments revolutionized the plasma measurements in space and were used, among other missions, on board the Ulysses spacecraft where MPS also participated. Johannes Geiss collaborated with scientists from the MPS from an early stage. Since 1982 he is an external scientific member of MPS. He was and still is participating scientifically in space experiments at the MPS.

After his retirement, Johannes Geiss strongly supported the foundation of the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) in Bern. He was one of the founding fathers of ISSI, which has developed into an internationally highly recognized institute for the international cooperation in space research today. Geiss is an honorary director at ISSI. He was awarded the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the Albert Einstein Medal of the Swiss Albert Einstein Society for his outstanding scientific achievements.

As impressive Geiss’ contributions to fundamental research are, as unselfishly promotes fundamental research and its implementation to the benefit of the society. He was one of the key players shaping the the science objectives and the present scientific program of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the space research program in Switzerland. He successfully promoted international space missions such as Ulysses, SOHO or Cassini/Huygens. Johannes Geiss is a pioneer in the field of space research, a modest person, always promoting international scientific collaboration and sharing ideas with his colleagues.

The MPS wishes Johannes Geiss a Happy Birthday.

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