Alumnus Donald Kniffen named to College of Science Hall of Distinction

The LSU College of Science inducted four exceptional individuals into the Hall of Distinction on March 31, 2017, among them Donald Kniffen, 1959 LSU Physics & Astronomy alumnus and NASA research scientist.

Kniffen, a magna cum laude graduate, is an accomplished astrophysicist and more than 40-year veteran of the NASA space program. He has been a leader in the national and international high-energy astrophysics community, and is one of the scientists who developed the field of high-energy gamma-ray astronomy. Gamma rays are emitted characteristically by the most energetic and exotic objects in the Universe, and gamma-ray astronomy is now one of the highest priority fields of astronomy.

"The Department of Physics & Astronomy is very proud to recognize Donald Kniffen as a graduate of our program and to welcome him back to LSU for recognition as a Hall of Distinction inductee,” said John DiTusa, professor and department chair. “His career as an astrophysicist and the leadership he provided at NASA, as a professor, and as an administrator for the University Space Research Association are outstanding contributions to science, education, and society as a whole. He is an exceptional example to our students of what they can strive to accomplish in their own careers in science."

The son of LSU Boyd Professor Fred B. Kniffen, Don was one of the early leaders of gamma-ray astronomy at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland, from its earliest days, flying experiments on high altitude balloons through pioneering satellite experiments, the second Small Astronomy Satellite (SAS-II) and EGRET on board the second “Great Observatory,” the Shuttle-launched Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO). CGRO followed the Hubble Space Telescope. Kniffen served as NASA’s Project Scientist for CGRO, for which he was awarded NASA’s Medal for Outstanding Leadership in 1992. After retiring from GSFC, he began a second career as a professor and later held a number of top-level science positions within U.S. astrophysics.

In his third career he became president and CEO of the Universities Space Research Association, a non-profit consortium of 105 Universities with PhD programs in space related fields. Currently, he is retired but continues to serve in consulting roles for NASA for the programs he formerly directed as a NASA program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

“We celebrate the outstanding achievements of this year’s honorees as leading educators, mentors and researchers who continue to make significant contributions to their fields,” said Cynthia Peterson, dean of the LSU College of Science and Seola Arnaud and Richard V.  Edwards Jr. Professor. “On behalf of the College of Science faculty, students and staff, I salute this year’s honorees and their remarkable work.”

Established in 2004, the LSU College of Science Hall of Distinction celebrates individuals who make significant contributions to science, business, academia, or government, as well as to their community. 2017 honorees were Jeffrey Hanor, LSU Professor Emeritus in Geology & Geophysics, Neil Kestner, LSU Professor Emeritus in Chemistry, Donald Kniffen, LSU alumnus and NASA research scientist and Saundra McGuire, Director Emerita of LSU’s Center for Academic Success and retired chemistry professor.