Mark Reid Elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences
Monday, May 6, 2019
Prize Announcement

Mark Reid, a Senior Radio Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astronomical Observatory, which is a part of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard Smithsonian, was elected to the membership of the National Academy of Sciences at its annual meeting on April 30, 2019. New membership in the Academy is limited each year to 100 distinguished scientists in the United States and 25 from the international community.

Reid was one of the early pioneers in the use of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI) beginning with his thesis work in 1974. In the ensuing years he has dramatically improved the accuracy of direct distance measurement techniques enabled by VLBI and used them to gain important insights into the structure and mass of our galaxy, the dynamics of the local group of galaxies, the scale of the universe and the demography of super massive black holes. He is a leader of the Megamaser Cosmology Project, which has measured the mass of 19 super-massive black holes in the centers of active galaxies and accurate distances of nine of them through trigonometric VLBI measurements of their associated water vapor masers. These measurements have been combined to provide an independent estimate of the Hubble constant to an accuracy of about 5 percent. He is also co-leader of the Bar and Spiral Structure Legacy Project (BESSEL), named in honor of Frederich Bessel who made the first stellar parallax measurement in 1838. This project has succeeded in measuring the parallactic distances to hundreds of cosmic masers, which have been used to delineate the spiral arms of the Galaxy and led to precise determination of fundamental parameters of the Galaxy including its central position, radius, and rotational velocity. In addition, he has contributed greatly to the understanding of the physics of cosmic masers. He and his colleagues made the first interferometric image of an OH maser system in a star forming region in the Galaxy in 1976. Those were the swashbuckling days of VLBI and to facilitate the measurements, Reid personally drove a truck carrying an atomic hydrogen maser clock from the SAO maser lab to the Harvard radio telescope in Fort Davis, Texas, which enabled it to participate in the first session of the US-VLBI array.

Reid earned a BS degree in physics from the University of California, San Diego, in 1971, and a PhD degree in planetary science and astronomy from the California Institute of Technology in 1975. He was a CfA fellow from 1975 to 1977, and a staff member at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory from 1977 to 1979, before returning to SAO as a career scientist in 1979. He served as the Associate Director of the Radio and Geoastronomy (RGA) Division at CfA from 1992 to 1997. In recognition of his work he has received the Batrice M. Tinsley Award from the American Astronomical Society, the Jansky Lectureship from NRAO, and a Senior Research Fellowship from the Humboldt Society of Germany.

The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863, under the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, as a non-governmental organization to provide advice to the nation on matters of science and technology. Members are elected on the basis of their distinguished and continuing contributions to science. The NAS currently has a membership of about 2350 scientists in the US, with an additional 490 foreign associates. The membership includes 190 recipients of the Nobel Prize. The astronomy section of the NAS has 74 members and 16 foreign associates. Currently, nine other scientists from CfA are NAS members.