William J. Borucki

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William J. Borucki (date unknown).

William J. Borucki is a space scientist working at the NASA Ames Research Center.[1] Upon joining NASA in 1962, Borucki designed the heat shields for Apollo program spacecraft.[1] He later turned his attention to the optical efficiency of lightning strikes in the atmospheres of planets, investigating the propensity that these lightning strikes could create molecules that would later become the precursors for life.[2] Subsequently, Borucki's attention turned to extrasolar planets and their detection, particularly through the transit method.[2] In light of this work, Borucki was named the principal investigator for NASA's Kepler mission, launched on March 6, 2009[1] and dedicated to a transit-based search for habitable planets.[1] In 2013, Borucki was awarded the United States National Academy of Sciences's Henry Draper Medal for his work with Kepler.

Education and career[edit]

Borucki studied physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, earning a master's degree in the subject 1962.[2] Following this, Borucki started work on Apollo program heat shields,[2] which were designed to protect the spacecraft and their occupants from being destroyed by the heat of re-entry into the atmosphere. After his work for Apollo, Borucki studied meteorology at San Jose State University. In 1982, Borucki began studies at NASA into the nature of lightning, using satellites equipped with instrumentation he helped design in order to discover what fraction of the energy in this lightning went into the production of prebiotic molecules.[2] As a part of this research, Borucki conducted analysis based on observations from space probes in order to find the frequency of lightning on other planets within the Solar System.[2]

The effort to launch Kepler was spearheaded by Borucki, who is now its principal investigator.[3]

By 1984, Borucki's attention had turned to the search for extrasolar planets by use of the transit method,[2] which involves observing the periodic dimming of the star in order to detect the signature of a planet blocking some of its light as it passes in front.[4] In that year and subsequently in 1988, Borucki organized workshops of scientists in order to determine the best methods for achieving transit-based detections of exoplanets, and also worked closely with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop photometers that could achieve the sensitivity desired.[2] At the Lick Observatory, Borucki demonstrated the techniques required for extrasolar planet detection by the transit method, and later constructed a ground-based proof-of-concept for a space telescope designed to hunt for planets.[2]

As of 2009, Borucki is the chief investigator for the Kepler space telescope, designed to hunt for exoplanets with the transit method. The telescope has detected 105 confirmed planets and thousands of likely planet candidates as of January 9, 2012.[5] For his work, he has received the NASA Outstanding Leadership Award, the Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Award in 2009, and the NASA Systems Engineering Excellence Award in 2010, and the Lancelot M. Berkeley Prize for Meritorious Work in Astronomy in 2011.[6] Most recently, Borucki has received the 2013 Henry Draper Medal from the United States National Academy of Sciences[3] "For his founding concept, unflagging advocacy, and visionary leadership during the development of NASA's Kepler mission, which has uncovered myriad planets and solar systems with unforeseen and surprising properties."[7]


  1. ^ a b c d "Kepler: William Borucki". Kepler: A Search for Habitable Planets. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. December 31, 2009. Retrieved January 7, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Jonas Dino, ed. (March 29, 2008). "William J. Borucki" (Press release). National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved January 7, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Young, Monica (January 8, 2013). "Kepler Zeroes in on Alien Earths". Sky and Telescope. Sky and Telescope. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  4. ^ Alexander Van Dijk, ed. (November 12, 2008). "The Transit Method of Detecting Extrasolar Planets". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Kepler: A Search for Habitable Planets". National Aeronautics and Space Administration. January 9, 2013. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Fourth IEEE International Conference on Space Mission Challenges for Information Technology: Keynote Presentation". Fourth IEEE Conference on Space Mission Challenges for Information Technology. Space Mission Challenges for Information Technology. 2009. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Retrieved 2011-05-27. 

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