Roc Cutri, the deputy director of Caltech’s IPAC astronomy center, has received the 2020 George Van Biesbroeck Prize, an award presented by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) to a “living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy, often beyond the requirements of their paid position.”
According to the prize citation, Cutri is being honored for his “his long-standing and selfless service and support for ground- and space-based infrared astronomy, including his leadership, development, and management of public data products such as those from the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), which have enabled many important discoveries across all fields of astronomy.”
“To date, about 12,000 papers have used data from 2MASS, WISE, and WISE’s successor NEOWISE, a sure indicator of the quality of those data and of their importance to astronomy. The quality of these data reflects Roc’s dedication and passion for excellence. This is a richly deserved recognition,” says George Helou, the executive director of IPAC.
Cutri, a world expert in infrared astronomy, served as the data processing lead scientist for 2MASS from 1994 to 2006. 2MASS used telescopes in Arizona and Chile to scan the entire sky in infrared light, producing the first high-resolution digital survey of the infrared sky in 2001. The survey produced unprecedented views of our Milky Way and nearby galaxies, and continues to provide astronomers with a rich trove of sky information today.
In 2007, Cutri and 2MASS Principal Investigator Michael Skrutskie of the University of Virginia shared the National Academy of Sciences James Craig Watson Medal. 2MASS was based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and involved team members from IPAC and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which is managed by Caltech for NASA.
Cutri continues to serve as the science data center lead scientist and manager for the NEOWISE space mission, formerly known as WISE. WISE performed a state-of-the-art infrared survey, scanning the sky twice from 2010 to 2011; it was reactivated and renamed NEOWISE in 2013 with a new mission to track and characterize asteroids and comets. NEOWISE has since surveyed the sky 12 more times, collecting nearly 1 million measurements of solar system objects and more than 100 billion measurements of background stars and galaxies.
WISE, NEOWISE, and 2MASS data are archived at IPAC. The WISE/NEOWISE mission is managed by JPL for NASA.