Thomas Rimmele: The 2021 SPIE George W. Goddard Award in Space and Airborne Optics

The SPIE George W. Goddard Award in Space and Airborne Optics recognizes exceptional achievement in optical or photonic technology or instrumentation for earth or planetary or astronomical science, reconnaissance, or surveillance from airborne or space platforms
12 January 2021
Thomas Rimmele 2021 SPIE George W. Goddard Award in Space and Airborne Optics
Rimmele in March 2016, during construction of the Danial K. Inouye Solar Telescope site at the summit of Haleakala, Maui HI. The Inouye Solar Telescope is seen in the background.

Thomas Rimmele's many accomplishments over his career include key astronomical-instrumentation-related inventions and developments, as well as providing overall vision and leadership in his field, and the success shows: today, Rimmele is the director of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), the world's largest solar telescope. Earlier this year, DKIST made New York Times headlines by capturing the highest-resolution images of the Sun ever seen; a few months later, Rimmele captured his own headline, as part of Fast Company's annual Most Creative People lineup. DKIST's significant step forward for solar physics research has been a priority for more than a decade; Rimmele was one of the original co-PIs for this concept, the inventor and technical lead on its integrated AO system, and now serves as the observatory's leader. A key aspect of his early career was his advancement of adaptive optics applied to solar observation: from his time at the National Solar Observatory in Sunspot, NM, where he helped develop a correlation tracker and then an associated correlation Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor, the stage was set to apply to high-resolution imaging of the Sun at the diffraction limit of multiple solar telescopes, culminating in the current success of this method on DKIST.

When it comes to professional development, technological support, and ongoing education, Rimmele has always been there for his colleagues. He has mentored and advised countless students throughout their academic career and beyond, and continues to encourage his employees and colleagues to attend, present, and publish with SPIE. An SPIE Member since 1995, he has authored nearly 70 SPIE papers since 1991, presenting many of them at SPIE conferences, most recently participating in the 2020 SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation Digital Forum.

"I have known and worked with Dr. Rimmele for over 20 years on astronomical projects related to solar science instrumentation starting with the Big Bear Solar Observatory, the National Solar Observatory, and then the advanced technology DKIST project," says Brian Lula of Physik Instrumente's Global Management Board. "The successful implementation of leading-edge opto-mechanical and spectroscopic instrumentation on these telescopes led to new understandings of how our sun works and its profound life-giving yet complex effects on space and earth-based weather and climate. Dr. Rimmele's talents, though, exceed his technical prowess as I've seen him also effectively manage large complex construction projects and scientific administration with political adeptness while also demonstrating his excellent interpersonal skills with suppliers. Overall, Thomas's CV is rich with publications and demonstrates a deep immersion into the science that drives the design and building of optomechanical instrumentation, the underpinnings of our SPIE ethos."

Meet the other 2021 SPIE Society Award winners.

Read more about Thomas Rimmele and the SPIE George W. Goddard Award in Space and Airborne Optics.

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