The Bruce Medalists


  Photo ca. 1980, courtesy Prof. Harwit
Martin Otto Harwit
9 March 1931 2007 Bruce Medalist  

Martin Harwit was born in Prague and received his first year and a half of schooling in German and Czech. When he was eight his father, a noted biochemist, became a professor in Istanbul, so most of the boy's schooling was in English and Turkish. At fifteen he immigrated to the United States and studied one year at the Bronx High School of Science before going to Oberlin College for his B.A. in physics. After earning a master’s degree at the University of Michigan and serving in the U.S. Army, he entered M.I.T., where he earned his Ph.D. in physics in 1960. He did postdoctoral research on theoretical astrophysics problems with Fred Hoyle at the University of Cambridge, and then began a long career at Cornell University. In 1963 he began working with Aerobee rockets to do infrared astronomy from space, visiting for a year with Herbert Friedman’s group at the Naval Research Laboratory. Back at Cornell he built a number of rockets with liquid nitrogen and helium-cooled infrared detectors. He then went into airborne infrared astronomy, working on NASA’s Learjet and Kuiper flying observatories. He and his coworkers pioneered infrared spectroscopy and made both near and far-infrared observations of everything from the night sky background through planets, stars and galaxies. Long interested in history and philosophy of science, Harwit wrote a book propounding the view that new discoveries in science are primarily the result of new instrumentation. He was one of the original planners of NASA’s Great Observatories program, which led to the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. In 1987 he became director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. His directorship ended in 1995 as a result of intense controversy over a planned exhibit on the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bomb. Since then he has returned to infrared astronomy as a professor emeritus at Cornell based in Washington, D.C. In recent years he has worked on the Infrared Space Observatory, the Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite, and the Herschel Space Observatory. A former head of the Cornell Astronomy Department, he is also the author of an influential astrophysics textbook, Astrophysical Concepts.

Personal Web Page
At Cornell University

Presentation of Bruce medal
See the ASP website. [Cornell press release]

Biographical materials
Brief biography with papers at Cornell University Library
Ehrenstein, David, “The Dream Job that Became a Nightmare: Martin Harwit and the Enola Gay Exhibit,” Oberlin College Alumni Magazine, Fall 1997.

In the lab, 1977, courtesy of Dr. Harwit
American Institute of Physics (several)
Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 2007
Accepting the Bruce medal, 2007

Named after him
Minor Planet #12143 Harwit

More references

The Bruce Medalists

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