Huntsman decorating USU Space Researcher

By Kim Burgess
The Herald Journal
November 7, 2007

A senior researcher at Utah Statue University’s Space Dynamics Lab has been named a recipient of the 2007 Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology.

Tom Wilkerson will receive the award during a ceremony hosted by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. at Salt Lake City’s Clark Planetarium on Nov. 13.

“I was amazed and flabbergasted (to hear about the award) and still am,” Wilkerson said. “When I look at the list of people who have gotten these awards before, I am really surprised at receiving the award and very appreciative.”

The state of Utah gives the Governor’s Medal to recognize individuals who have excelled in science and technology.

It is the highest honor awarded by Utah for scientific and technological achievements.

Wilkerson, 75, is an expert in the use of laser to measure the contest of the atmosphere --- known as light detection and ranging of LIDAR. He also serves on the faculty of USU’s physics department and its Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences.

Wilkerson’s current work focuses on measuring emissions from livestock, including methane and ammonia.

“The emissions contribute to the general population of particles in the air and can react to create smog and haze and sometimes have unpleasant odor,” he explained.

Though Wilkerson is enthusiastic about his research, he is equally proud of his efforts mentoring students including undergraduates who are just starting their research careers.

USU alum Jan Marie Anderson, a former student of Wilkerson, credits him with much of her success including a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Copenhagen’s Niels Bohr Institute.

“Tom has definitely been one of the most influential people in my physics career, and I owe him much of where I am today to his mentoring and teaching,” she said.

At Wilkerson’s urging, his students call him ‘Tom,’ Anderson said, “The relationship that Tom has with us is much more than just a teacher/student or supervisor/employee relationship. As Tom’s students, we know that he cares about us – both our academic careers and our lives. …I couldn’t have asked for a better research mentor than Tom Wilkerson.”

Wilkerson has been a senior scientist at SDL since 1997 and with the USU physics department since 1994. Prior to his arrival at USU, he held positions at the University of Maryland and at Princeton University. He is married to Mary Gilbert Palmer, a jewelry historian at S.E. Needham Jewelers.

The Governor’s Medal was created in 1987. Awards are given in academia, science education, industry and government.

© 2007 The Herald Journal