A NASA climate scientist and alum of UH’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics was recently honored with a 2009 Presidential Early Career Award.
Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is among 100 researchers who will receive the award this fall at a White House ceremony. It is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on young researchers.
Willis, who graduated from UH in 1996 with a degree in physics and mathematics, studies the impact of global warming on sea level rise. His research has been widely used by colleagues around the world and was cited in the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Willis also lectures to the public and works with students to educate them about climate change issues.
The Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers honors researchers whose early accomplishments show the greatest promise for strengthening America’s leadership in science and technology and whose work is expected to lead to future breakthroughs.
Recipients are selected from among nine federal departments and agencies based on both innovative research and commitment to community service. Winners receive a five-year research grant to further their work for critical government missions.
“These extraordinary gifted young scientists and engineers represent the best in our country,” President Barack Obama said in a White House statement announcing the award winners. “With their talent, creativity and dedication, I am confident that they will lead their fields in new breakthroughs and discoveries and help us use science and technology to lift up our nation and our world.”
Willis earned a master’s degree in physics and a doctorate in oceanography from the University of California in San Diego. He joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in 2004.
He and his wife, Dixie Aragaki, a physician, live in Los Angeles. Willis credits the excellent undergraduate experience at UH with helping to launch his research career.
“I remember my years at UH as one of the best times of my life. In addition to meeting my wife there, UH broadened my horizons,” Willis said. “My professors challenged my worldview and inspired me to work just a little bit harder than I really had to – and I couldn’t be more happy that they did.