Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Dr. James Bock, an astrophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

The award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent careers. The program is sponsored by the National Science and Technology Council, which implements the President's science and technology policy across the federal government.

Dr. Michael Werner, JPL senior research scientist and principal scientist for the Space Infrared Telescope Facility, nominated Bock for the award.

"It is important that the world know that JPL has world-class scientists," said Werner. "Bock provided the key detector elements for two experiments that have put our understanding of the early universe on solid footing and have set the stage for further exploration."

Bock builds detectors and instruments for far infrared millimeter wave astrophysics. Bolometer instruments developed by Bock were used in a recent balloon-borne experiment called Boomerang to detect minute fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, showing the geometry of the universe is essentially flat. Bolometers sense thermal radiation in the same way humans can feel the warmth from sunlight with their hands, but are many times more sensitive.

A ceremony in Washington, D.C. will honor Bock and other awardees. They will each receive $500,000 over a five-year period for research. Bock plans to use the funding to develop a new experiment to study the polarization, or the specific light properties, of the cosmic microwave background. A relic of the Big Bang, the cosmic microwave background arose when the Universe was 1,000 times hotter and denser than it is today. It gives us a snapshot of the Universe when it was just 300,000 years old, a tiny fraction of its current age of 15 billion years. The physical properties of the Universe at that time imprinted signatures in the structure and polarization of the cosmic microwave background that we detect today.

Bock received his bachelor's degree in physics and math from Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, and his doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. He has been at JPL since 1994.

JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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