Montana State University

MSU solar physicist receives White House award

December 19, 2008 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service

Charles Kankelborg, in front of a chamber that provides a clean environment for optical work, received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on Dec. 19. (MSU photo by Kelly Gorham).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- Charles Kankelborg, a solar physicist at Montana State University, has received the highest award the United States government gives to outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their careers.

John H. Marburger III, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, presented the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers to Kankelborg and 66 other recipients in a Dec. 19 ceremony at the Old Executive Building on White House grounds. Kankelborg, 41, was honored for developing novel solar instruments and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students.

"Your discoveries and intellectual leadership provide an example to your colleagues and to succeeding generations and will help shape the future. Our nation applauds your accomplishments and expectantly awards your future contributions," Marburger wrote Kankelborg when he notified him of his award.

Kankelborg is the second MSU solar physicist to receive the PECASE and the third recipient affiliated with the MSU physics department. Solar physicist Dana Longcope, whose office is next to Kankelborg's, received his award in 2000. Joe Shaw received his award in 1999 when he worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colo. Shaw is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, an affiliate professor of physics and director of MSU's Optical Technology Center.

"This award is a wonderful surprise," Kankelborg said. "I should have known something was coming when the Office of Science and Technology Policy wrote me several months ago, informing me that they were performing an FBI background check, but I did not expect a PECASE.

"I've always admired both Dana and Joe and am thrilled to find myself in such good company," Kankelborg added.

Besides the honor of receiving a White House award, the PECASE gives Kankelborg a plaque and a two-year extension on one of his research grants. Nine federal departments and agencies recommended recipients for the PECASE. Kankelborg was one of three PECASE recipients who were nominated by NASA.

Former President Bill Clinton established the PECASE in 1996 to honor young scientists and engineers for innovative research and community service. That was the same year Kankelborg came to MSU as a postdoctoral researcher. He was brought to MSU by former astronaut Loren Acton to work on a solar mission called TRACE, or Transition Region and Coronal Explorer.

For the past several years, Kankelborg has focused on another mission called MOSES, or multi-order solar extreme ultraviolet spectrograph. Kankelborg, who came up with the idea for the mission, is the project director. MOSES involves undergraduate and graduate students and prepared optical instruments that were launched on a NASA rocket in 2006. The instruments gathered high-resolution images from a broad section of the sun. Another MOSES launch, with new instruments, is set for 2010.

Kankelborg is also helping develop concepts for a new solar mission called IRIS, or Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph. IRIS, like TRACE, is a NASA Small Explorer Satellite.

Kankelborg has said in the past that scientists hope MOSES and other spacecraft will help reveal what's behind the sun's magnetic and, at times, explosive personality. Solar flares and explosions from the sun's corona release enormous amounts of energy that can interfere with satellites, cell phones, power grids and related technologies.

Besides his research, Kankelborg teaches MSU physics courses ranging from introductory to graduate levels. He is affiliated with MSU's Space Science and Engineering Laboratory and the Optical Technology Center. He has had two awards that allowed him to do solar outreach projects with the Bozeman High School and at Yellowstone National Park. He is working with Scott Wiessinger, an MSU filmmaking student who is making a film to encourage high school students to pursue rocket science.

Shaw, said he had a "fabulous" time when he received his award and hoped that Kankelborg's experience would be just as memorable. Shaw said he appreciated the ceremony itself because the presenter didn't focus on the researchers' specialness but their potential and responsibility to serve the world.

"I'm just really pleased for Charles," Shaw said. "It just makes me smile inside."

For related articles, see:
"MSU rocket roars into space above New Mexico desert" at

"Asteroid named after MSU astrophysicist" at

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or