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Anthony Tuzzolino, Space Physicist, 1931-2008

Jan. 29, 2008

As a young physicist working at the University of Chicago in 1961, Anthony Tuzzolino helped a graduate student build an instrument for the Discoverer 36 satellite to detect charged particles coming from the sun and elsewhere in outer space.

Thirty-seven years later, that student, Ed Stone, Ph.D.’64, visited the University of Chicago’s Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research (LASR) as Director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to award Tuzzolino the NASA Public Service Medal.

Tuzzolino, who helped design, build and test more than 40 instruments for space probes, including the University of Chicago’s very first one for the Pioneer satellite in 1958, died Jan. 9 at his home in the northern suburbs after a long battle with cancer. He was 76.

“Tony Tuzzolino was a pioneer of the space age, developing cosmic ray detectors and cosmic dust sensors that were launched on dozens of missions near Earth and throughout the solar system,” Stone said. “Data from his detectors yielded numerous scientific discoveries and started many students on their careers in research.”

LASR owes much of its success over the last four decades in the study of cosmic rays and planetary exploration to Tuzzolino’s pioneering work, said Thanasis Economou, a Senior Scientist at the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute. Tuzzolino excelled at the design, construction, testing and calibration of solid-state silicon detectors that became the standard for space-borne cosmic ray studies.

“He played an essential part in more than 40 LASR space experiments, and all of them were successful,” Economou said. “Tony represented the spirit of the LASR, and he will be missed by all of us who knew him and worked with him.”

The NASA Public Service Medal honored Tuzzolino for his role in developing cosmic dust and cosmic-ray particle detectors for a variety of interplanetary space probes. His detectors were the first to visit Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and the moon. Another detector of Tuzzolino’s design visited Comet Wild-2 in 2004, while two others today orbit Saturn and the polar regions of the sun.

Economou collaborated with Tuzzolino on 12 missions, including the Stardust mission to Comet Wild-2, and the current Cassini mission to Saturn. “It was a wonderful experience. Tony was a great scientist with multiple interests and he achieved a lot,” Economou said. “On a more personal basis, Tony was not only a wonderful colleague, but also a good friend of mine. We shared a love for space exploration.”

Tuzzolino was born July 1, 1931, the son of Lucille and Sam Tuzzolino, on the north side of Chicago. He received his M.S. degree in 1955, and his Ph.D. in 1957, both in physics, from the University of Chicago. In 1957 he began working with the late John Simpson, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Physics at the University of Chicago. Simpson co-founded the University’s space research program in 1958. That year, he and Tuzzolino contributed an instrument to the Pioneer-2 satellite for the study of radiation from Earth orbit.

In the early 1970s, Simpson, together with Tuzzolino, provided flight instruments to the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes to measure cosmic rays particles. In 1973, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter, and then continued to provide useful science data for a quarter-century in its journey nearly to the edge of the solar system.

Bruce McKibben, a research professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Space Science Center, worked with Tuzzolino as a member of Simpson’s research group from 1965 to 2002. “I especially admired Tony’s ability to make things work in the lab, and the care and determination with which he approached and usually accomplished the seemingly impossible challenges that John Simpson threw his way from time to time,” McKibben said.

In his later years, Tuzzolino developed an entirely new kind of detector from a material quite similar to plastic wrap. This resulted from Simpson’s idea that foils of this material might be able to detect heavy cosmic-ray nuclei (protons and neutrons). Simpson hoped that the material would be so simple, cheap and light that it could be deployed in large arrays in space, or perhaps on the moon.

Tuzzolino showed that the foils could detect individual heavy nuclei, but just barely. “They turned out to be much better suited for measurements of microscopic dust particles in space,” McKibben said. “This opened a whole new area of research in our group, leading to instruments for study of space dust.”

As a result, Simpson and Tuzzolino built comet dust analyzers for two Soviet spacecraft that visited Halley’s Comet in 1986, for the Stardust mission to Comet Wild-2, and the Cassini mission to Saturn. They also equipped an Air Force satellite with a similar space dust instrument (SPADUS). In 2000, SPADUS detected a cloud of tiny debris particles that was scattered into space when the upper stage of a Chinese rocket exploded. The SPADUS finding marked the first time that scientists had been able to link ultra-small particles to the breakup of a particular satellite.

Other groups adopted Tuzzolino’s new instrument concept for their own studies, including Mihaly Horanyi at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Horanyi and his students contributed an array of plastic dust detectors on NASA’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto and the Kuiper belt of icy objects that lies in the outer reaches of the solar system. Despite Tuzzolino’s accomplishments, “he remained very modest,” McKibben said.

The Simpson-Tuzzolino collaboration continued until Simpson’s death in 2000. Tuzzolino retired as a Senior Scientist in the University’s Enrico Fermi Institute in 2006, after working for several years even while weakened and sick from his medical treatments.

A funeral service was held Jan. 12 at Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago. He was preceded in death by his wife, Nancy, in 1997. Survivors include a daughter, Nancy Tuzzolino; a son, Sam Tuzzolino; a sister, Connie McDonnell, and many nieces and nephews.

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Last modified at 10:37 AM CST on Friday, February 01, 2008

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