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Parkinson wins oldest American technical award

Bradford Parkinson was presented with the Magellanic Premium Award of the American Philosophical Society at its autumn general meeting in Philadelphia on Nov. 14.

The Magellanic Premium Award was established in 1786 by John Hyacinth de Magellan as an award "to the author of the best discovery or most useful invention relating to navigation, astronomy or to natural philosophy (mere natural history only excepted)." At that time the award consisted of a gold medal worth 200 guineas. Today the medal comes with a $1,000 honorarium.

Parkinson, the Edward C. Wells Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics in the School of Engineering, was cited for his contributions to the development of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a military satellite navigation system that has found widespread use in the civilian sector. More than 3 million people currently rely on the system for vehicle, ship and aircraft navigation purposes. Roger Easton, the inventor of the spaceborne atomic clocks that are the key to the GPS system, also received an award.

Two members of the Magellanic Premium Committee that selected the award winners were Joseph H. Taylor of Princeton, who won the award in 1990 for confirming Einstein's theory of gravitational waves from a binary star system, and 1992 winner Edward C. Stone of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, chief scientist of the Voyager grand tour of the solar system planets. Other notable past winners include Charles Darwin, Madame Curie, William Hewlett, Robert McNamara, Karl von Frisch and Charles Stark Draper.

The Magellanic Premium Award is sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, which was founded by Ben Franklin. It is the oldest technical prize in North America.

Parkinson leads a major research project at Stanford to explore innovative uses of GPS and is also the program director of NASA's Gravity Probe B, a spaceborne test of Einstein's general theory of relativity.


By David F. Salisbury

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