2003Basic SciencesEarth and Planetary Sciences, Astronomy and Astrophysics
Eugene Newman Parker photo

Eugene Newman Parker

  • U.S.A. / June 10, 1927
  • Physicist
  • Professor Emeritus, The University of Chicago

Outstanding Contribution to Space Science by the Elucidation of the Solar Wind and Cosmical Magnetohydrodynamics

Through his research on terrestrial, solar and cosmical magnetohydrodynamic phenomena, Professor Parker has produced numerous seminal physical concepts - not least among them the theory of the solar wind - opening new dimensions in earth and space sciences. His discoveries have made a significant contribution to the elucidation of various phenomena involving fixed stars, interstellar space, and the Galaxy, giving birth to new perspectives in astrophysics.


Brief Biography

Born in Houghton, Michigan
Ph.D., California Institute of Technology
Assistant Professor, Institute for Nuclear Studies and Dept. of Physics, University of Chicago
Associate Professor, Institute for Nuclear Studies and Dept. of Physics, University of Chicago
Professor of Physics, Enrico Fermi Institute and Dept. of Physics, University of Chicago
Professor, Dept. of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago
S. Chandrasekhar, Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Physics, Dept. of Astronomy and Astrophysics, and Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago

Selected Awards and Honors

Elected to National Academy of Sciences
Henryk Arctowski Medal, National Academy of Sciences
George Ellery Hale Award, American Astronomical Society
United States National Medal of Science
William Bowie Medal, American Geophysical Union
Gold Medal, Royal Astronomical Society
Bruce Medal, Astronomical Society of the Pacific
James Clerk Maxwell Award, American Physical Society

Selected Publications


Dynamics of the Interplanetary Gas and Magnetic Fields. Astrophysical Journal 128:664, 1958.


Interplanetary Dynamical Processes. Interscience Division. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1963.


The Generation of Magnetic Fields in Astrophysical Bodies. I The Dynamo Equations. Astrophysical Journal 162:665, 1970.


The Generation of Magnetic Fields in Astrophysical Bodies. II ; The Galactic Field. Astrophysical Journal 163:255, 1971.


Cosmical Magnetic Fields: Their Origin and their Activity. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.


Magnetic Monopole Plasma Oscillations and the Survival of Galactic Magnetic Fields. Astrophysical Journal 321:349, 1987.


Nanoflares and the Solar X-ray Corona. Astrophysical Journal 330:474, 1998.


Spontaneous Current Sheets in Magnetic Field, with Application to Stellar X-rays. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.


Outstanding Contribution to Space Science by the Elucidation of the Solar Wind and Cosmical Magnetohydrodynamics

During his half-century of research on magnetohydrodynamic phenomena in the solar atmosphere and interstellar space, Professor Eugene Newman Parker has contributed to extending the frontiers of space science and astrophysics through the development of numerous theoretical concepts, not least among them the solar wind. His discoveries have cast light on the mechanisms of diverse solar-terrestrial phenomena—magnetospheric phenomena such as geomagnetic storms and auroras, the origin of the solar magnetic field, changes in corona activity and the solar wind, the magnetic field in the interplanetary space, comet tails, and modulations in the intensity of cosmic rays—and helped advance research on magnetohydrodynamic phenomena in stars, interstellar space and the Galaxy, revolutionizing our view of the universe.

Among Professor Parker’s many scholarly achievements, his theoretical prediction of the solar wind in 1958 deserves special mention. While it had been inferred from research on geomagnetic storms and related occurrences that clouds of ionized gas (plasma) emitted by the eruptions in the solar corona causes these phenomena, Professor Parker theoretically deduced that there must be a constant, supersonic flow of plasmas even in the absence of such eruptions. His theoretical prediction that the plasma flow was supersonic was particularly significant in challenging the old assumptions, and the validity of that prediction was proven several years later through direct observations by artificial satellites.

As the solar wind flows outward into outer space, it carries with it the solar magnetic field, which twists into a spiral following the sun’s rotation. Upon reaching the earth, the wind is deflected by the terrestrial magnetic field and flows around the planet, the earth’s own magnetic field acting as a shield against the ultrahigh temperature and the ultrahigh-speed of the solar wind. The discovery of the solar wind as we know it has helped establish the framework for understanding a variety of earth phenomena, including the origin of geomagnetic storms and shock waves, auroras, and radiation belts.

Professor Parker’s theory triggered drastic changes in our perception of interplanetary space. The concept of a supersonic solar wind constantly blowing through interplanetary space, formerly believed to be a vacuum, has provided the key to understanding a variety of solar-terrestrial phenomena.

Professor Parker has since applied magnetohydrodynamic theory to a broader range of phenomena, including ‘stellar wind’ and ‘galactic wind.’ He has also made an important contribution to the dynamo theory of planetary magnetic fields, long a difficult question. Professor Parker’s book, Cosmical Magnetic Fields: Their Origin and their Activity (1979), is regarded as the Bible of cosmic magnetohydrodynamics and related fields. He has authored over 300 scientific papers, most of which he produced alone. His insatiable scholarly pursuits have also contributed to the advancement of space development and basic sciences.

Professor Parker has applied his studies of magnetohydrodynamic phenomena to the elucidation of many cosmic phenomena involving the sun, space, fixed stars, and the galaxy, thereby contributing to the advancement of astrophysics.

For this reason, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2003 Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences to Professor Eugene Newman Parker.


Abstract of the Lecture

Curiosity as a Career

When I was a child, I knew no greater pleasure than, for instance, having the mysteries of a steam engine explained to me. I was delighted that there was a direct way of understanding the mechanism in terms of pushing and pulling, something familiar to a child. My parents indulged my curiosity with explanations, a microscope, and the reading of many books. When I was 16 years old, I had a year of physics in school and realized that the subject underlies all physical phenomena. I decided then that I would pursue physics as a career. I went off to Michigan State University to study physics and mathematics, graduating in 1948 and going on graduate study at the California Institute of Technology, where I earned the PhD in 1951.

I came on the scientific scene more than fifty years ago, at a time when advances in technology and scientific instrumentation were opening up geophysics, space physics, astrophysics, and galactic physics to a degree no one could have anticipated. By the time I got into it, the magnetic field of Earth was unambiguously attributed to the convecting liquid iron core of Earth. The magnetic field of the Sun was soon mapped, cosmic rays were analyzed as mostly protons, and their intensity variations were measured. It was all there for the aspiring physicist to think about. And it has been gratifying over the years to see so many of the puzzles finding scientific answers. Nor is the excitement over with. The discovery of new mysterious phenomena continues to run well ahead of our ability to figure out their nature. For all of the progress in theoretical understanding, some of the old mysteries, e.g. the origin of sunspots, the precise nature of the solar dynamo, etc. remain unsolved after all these years. The newer puzzles include such things as the Maunder Minimum in solar activity and the remarkably strong connection of terrestrial climate to the general level of magnetic activity on the Sun. This has become a crucial issue today in the context of global warming, and we need to know much more about the origins of terrestrial climate if we are to make intelligent decisions about global warming. There is a lot of thinking and measuring and observing ahead of us, with no end in sight. There are endless new vistas about which to be curious.

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Cosmical Magnetohydrodynamics and Solar Activity

November 12, 2003
Kyoto international Conference Hall
Humitaka Sato (Chairman, Kyoto Prize Committee; Professor, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Konan University) Kazunari Shibata (Professor, Graduate School of Science, Kyoto University)
Atsuhiro Nishida (Professor Emeritus, Institute of Space and Astronautical Science)


Opening Address Humitaka Sato
Laureate Lecture Eugene Newman Parker
"Spontaneous Discontinuities in Magnetic Fields and Stellar X-Ray Coronae"
Lecture Kazunari Shibata
"Cosmical Magnetohydrodynamics: From Solar Wind to Reconnection"
Solar Activity and Terrestrial Environment Moderator:
Kazunari Shibata
Lecture Saku Tsuneta
(Professor, Division of Solar Physics, National Astronomical Observatory)
"Gene Parker and Revolutionary Developments in Solar Physics"
Lecture Toshio Terasawa
(Professor, Graduate School of Science, University of Tokyo)
"Heliosphere, Interstellar Matter, and Cosmic Rays"
Lecture Tateo Goka
(Director, Space Environment Engineering Group, Institute of Space Technology and Aeronautics, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
"Space Development and Solar Activity"
Lecture Yasushi Muraki
(Professor, Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory, Nagoya University)
"The Long Term Variation of Solar Activity and its Effect on the Climate"
Question-and-Answer Session
Address Atsuhiro Nishida