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The Award Recipient

2009 Award Recipient
Dr. Thanasis Economou

A native of Ziakas, Greece, Dr. Thanasis (Tom) Economou has been developing new techniques and building instruments for interplanetary spacecraft since the mid-1960s. Currently he is associated with three of NASA’s robotic missions: the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Cassini mission to Saturn, and the now-complete Stardust mission to Comet Wild-2, which has been redirected and will arrive to another comet in 2011. Economou also built the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer that successfully performed the first chemical analysis of Martian rocks aboard the Mars Pathfinder rover in 1997. Working at the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research with Professor  Anthony Turkevich, he contributed to the alpha backscattering experiment of three robotic Surveyor space probes that landed on the moon in 1967-68. With Turkevich during the 1970s and 1980s, he also conducted basic nuclear physics research on the subatomic structure of matter using the most advanced particle accelerators at Los Alamos, Argonne and Fermi National Accelerator   laboratories. During the 1990s they together performed an important double beta decay experiment of Uranium-238 to Plutonium-238, suggesting for the first time that neutrinos consists of a small quantity of mass.

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Για ελληνικά πατήστε ΕΔΩ


  • 1961: M.S. Nuclear Physics, Charles University, Prague, Czechoslovakia
  • 1964: Postgraduate Degree, Institute for Plasma Physics, Prague, Czechoslovakia


  • 1961-1964 - Physicist, Institute for Plasma Physics, Prague, Czechoslovakia
  • 1964-1981 - Researcher, Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research (LASR),

University of Chicago

  • 1981-1997 – Senior Research Associate, LASR, Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago
  • 1997- present- Senior Scientist, LASR, Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago

Major research activities:

  • In-situ Chemical analyses of planetary bodies by Alpha Backscattering technique (developed with A. Turkevich) -- Surveyor Alpha backscattering experiment 1967-68 on three Lunar landings; Instrument development for Viking missions; penetrator missions to comets and asteroids; Co-I on the Alpha-X experiment on board the Soviet Phobos 1 and 2 spacecrafts in 1986-89; Co-Investigator on the Alpha-Proton-X-ray for the Russian Mars-96 missions to Mars (1990-1996) - Principal Investigator for the X-ray mode of this experiment; Co-Principal Investigator on the APX Spectrometer on NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission in 1993 - 1997; Principal Investigator for the X-ray mode of the APXS experiment on the Pathfinder Mission. Science Team Member for the Pathfinder mission. Member of many NASA mission evaluation teams (1970 - present). Analysis of Mars Pathfinder APXS data 1997-2003; Co-Investigator and Science Team Member on Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rover missions, 2001-present; Co- Investigator and Science Team Member on ESA’s Beagle2 Mars mission (2000-04).
  • Cosmic Dust investigations in near Earth and interplanetary space (with A. Tuzzolino) --
    Member of science team on Cassini CDA experiment (1997 launch –still in operation); Team member of the Air Force ARGOS Earth Orbiter SPADUS experiment(1999 launch), STARTDUST mission to Wild 2 comet (Comet sample return mission,1999 launch, now redirected to flyby to another comet in 2011 as STARDUST-NEXT NASA mission).
  • Principal Investigator for development of the X-ray mode of the APXS  technique using exotic room temperature X-ray detectors (HgI2, Si,Si-PIN --NASA multi-year PIDD program).
  • Basic Research in Nuclear Physics involving alpha spectrometry and radiochemistry (with A. Turkevich-- 238U Double Beta experiment; search for super heavy and other exotic particles; fusion, etc.).
  • Optical Observatory Orliakas in Northwestern Greece Project. Consulting function ( 2007- present).


NASA  award for the APXS on the Pathfinder Mission, National Air and Space Museum 1998 Achievement Trophy for the Pathfinder Team, Group award for Sojourner rover development. NASA Group and individual awards for Mars Rover mission Spirit and Opportunity,  NASA award for the STARDUST mission.

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Για ελληνικά πατήστε ΕΔΩ


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Students' Views

"Even before the presentation of my master thesis, I started feeling that my days at AIT were ending and that I would amazingly miss the whole environment. Since all the staff at AIT are, first of all, very good friends with the students, they quickly recognized my big wish to continue my stay in Greece. I also had luck at that exact time, that AIT’s Career Office organized “Career days”, where some of the best international and Greek companies presented their programs and temporary open positions. This was the unique opportunity to test your knowledge, skills and eventually become recruited by one of the companies, what exactly was my case!"

Milica Bogosavljev, MSITT 2006 (Serbia)

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