March 6, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 11

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    Anthony Tuzzolino: Pioneer of space age

    As a young University physicist 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’s Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research 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’s very first one for the Pioneer satellite in 1958, died Wednesday, Jan. 9 at his north-suburban home 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 Enrico Fermi Institute. Tuzzolino excelled at the design, construction, testing and calibration of solid-state silicon detectors, which 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,” said Economou, who collaborated on 12 projects with Tuzzolino. “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.

    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 Chicago.

    In 1957, he began working with the late John Simpson, the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Physics and the College. Simpson cofounded 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’s orbit.

    In the early 1970s, Simpson and Tuzzolino provided flight instruments to the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes to measure cosmic-ray particles. In 1973, Pioneer 10 became the first spacecraft to visit Jupiter, and it continued to provide useful data during the next 25 years in its journey near 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.

    As the result of one such challenge, Tuzzolino developed an entirely new kind of detector from a material quite similar to plastic wrap. Although not Simpson’s original goal, the detector turned out to be well-suited for measuring microscopic dust particles in space. “This opened a whole new area of research in our group, leading to instruments for the study of space dust,” McKibben said.

    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 in 2004, and the current Cassini mission to Saturn.

    Their collaborations continued until Simpson’s death in 2000, and in 2006, Tuzzolino retired as a Senior Scientist in the University’s Enrico Fermi Institute.

    He was preceded in death by his wife, Nancy, in 1997. Survivors include his daughter, Nancy Tuzzolino; son, Sam Tuzzolino; sister, Connie McDonnell, and many nieces and nephews.