Charles Elachi, director of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president of the California Institute of Technology, will deliver Northeastern University’s 2016 Commencement address for the afternoon graduate ceremony on Friday, May 6, 2016, at Matthews Arena in Boston.
Elachi, who is an internationally recognized expert on space science, will address some 2,000 graduate students in attendance, along with family members, university leaders, and friends. He will also receive an honorary degree.
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun unveiled the news Monday night on Twitter.
“Charles Elachi is an accomplished leader and innovator who has made a real difference in the field of space exploration,” President Aoun said. “We are honored that he will join us at Commencement to celebrate our graduate students’ accomplishments and help them launch their own personal and professional journeys.”
Elachi began his career at JPL, which is a federally funded research and development center managed by Caltech for NASA, as a student intern in 1970. He has been an active researcher and science investigator on many space exploration missions and projects for the past 45 years, and is credited with pioneering the use of radar remote sensing techniques on such missions as the Shuttle Imaging Radar series, Magellan, and Cassini. He has authored more than 230 publications in the fields of active microwave remote sensing and electromagnetic theory, and holds several patents in those fields.
Elachi was appointed JPL director and Caltech vice president in 2001. He is also currently a professor of electrical engineering and planetary science.
JPL has seen more than 25 successful missions during the past 15 years under Elachi’s leadership that have expanded knowledge of our planet, our solar system and the larger universe. For example, the Jason spacecraft monitor sea-surface height and study its interaction with Earth’s weather and climate; the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers have found evidence of ancient environments favorable for microbial life; GRAIL mapped the moon’s gravity; the Deep Impact mission probed a comet with an intentional collision; Voyager was the first human-made object to reach interstellar space; the Spitzer Space Telescope has peered billions of years back in time; and the Kepler mission has expanded dramatically our catalog of planets beyond the solar system.
“At JPL, we have an exceptional team of men and women who accomplish the seemingly impossible, thanks in large part to their own passion and a solid educational background,” Elachi said. “I’m looking forward to addressing the graduating students of Northeastern University, who now have the opportunity to accomplish great things in their chosen fields.”
Elachi is a member of both the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics, and has received numerous awards and served on many boards and committees throughout his accomplished career. He will soon receive two more prestigious awards: the 2016 Aviation Week Laureate Award for Lifetime Achievement, which recognizes extraordinary accomplishments in aviation, aerospace, and defense; and the National Space Trophy from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation, presented to an outstanding American who has made significant contributions to the country’s space program.
Elachi will retire as JPL director at the end of June, and will become professor emeritus at Caltech.
JPL has served as a rich experiential learning environment for Northeastern co-op students, as well. Twenty students have worked on co-op at JPL since 2008, including four students who are there now.
Elachi received a Bachelor of Science in physics from the University of Grenoble, France; a Diplom-Ingenieur in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute in Grenoble; and a Master of Science and doctorate in electrical sciences from Caltech. He also holds an MBA from the University of Southern California, and a Master of Science in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Last month, Northeastern announced that U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry will deliver the Commencement address at the university’s undergraduate ceremony on Friday morning, May 6, at TD Garden in Boston.