UAH professor earns NASA achievement medal

UAH professor earns NASA achievement medal
Dr. Michael Briggs, Principal Res Scientist IV, S2. (Michael Mercier/UAH). (Source: Michael Mercier)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A professor at the Univeristy of Alabama in Huntsville was awarded NASA’s Exceptional Public Achievement Medal.

The award was given to Dr. Michael S. Briggs. Dr. Briggs is an assistant director of the Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research at UAH.

Dr. Briggs received the award for critical prior and ongoing contributions to the success of the Fermi Gamma-ray Telescope mission’s Gamma Ray Burst Monitor (GBM) project.

“I was surprised when the Steve Elrod, the GBM project manager, announced the award during a GBM tele-meeting,” Dr. Briggs says. “I thought that it was a routine GBM group meeting for updates. The GBM principal investigator helped fool me by asking me to give a status report.”

Currently serving GBM as the deputy principal investigator, Dr. Briggs was the primary author of the flight software, which integrates 14 gamma ray detectors with the flight data processing unit, the power unit and the Fermi spacecraft. He was a pivotal team contributor during instrument development as well as through fabrication and testing, spacecraft integration and now with mission operations.

Within a few years of launch, GBM detected the strongest and closest gamma ray bursts that had ever been recorded.

In 2018, the GBM team received the Bruno Rossi Prize for the discovery of gamma rays coincident with a neutron-star merger gravitational wave event. The discovery confirmed that short gamma ray bursts are produced by binary neutron star mergers and enabled a global multiwavelength follow-up campaign. It cemented GBM’s place in astrophysics history. 

According to NASA, Dr. Briggs’ capabilities in software, data analysis and his communication skills have played an invaluable role in the success of the Fermi mission, which steadily continues to perform in the extended mission phase.

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