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Governor's Awards 2015

Governor's Award for High Impact Research Event

Celebrated on October 8, 2015

CO-LABS Recognizes Ground-Breaking Scientists

Denver, CO – A remarkable Mars orbiter exploring the histories of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability and mission-critical representations of Earth’s magnetic field used daily by millions of people for military, mobile phone and other navigation needs are two of the Colorado scientific achievements that were recognized on October 8, 2015 when CO-LABS and the Alliance for Sustainable Energy hosted a night to honor Colorado’s federally funded research centers.

Abby Pitzner, Industry Development Manager, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) presented the 7th Annual Governor's Award for High-Impact Research to teams from four Colorado-based research centers for extraordinary research in the areas of Earth Systems and Space Sciences, Foundational Science and Technology, Public Health and Life Sciences, and Sustainability.

This year's winners:

Earth Systems and Space Sciences:

Winner: Mars Mission Scientific Discoveries (MAVEN, Dr. Bruce Jakosky and team members, LASP)
In September 2008, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, a Mars orbiter, was chosen as an upcoming NASA exploration mission. MAVEN’s goal is to determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, exploring the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and habitability.

The mission’s combination of detailed point measurements and global observations provides a powerful way to understand the properties of the upper atmosphere. The MAVEN mission advances our understanding of planetary habitability and climate change by investigating how Mars lost its early atmosphere and abundant liquid water. The $485 million MAVEN program represents the largest research contract ever awarded to the University of Colorado at Boulder.


Foundational Science and Technology:

Winner: Magnetic Innovations: Pushing the Earth’s Limits (CIRES)
A team of CIRES and NOAA geomagnetic experts has produced a diversity of remarkable science in 2014 and 2015, including mission-critical representations of Earth’s magnetic field used daily by millions of people for military, mobile phone and other navigation needs (including Google and Apple); and edgy innovations that may some day transform our ability to detect tsunamis and navigate more accurately through cities or under ice. The three components of this nomination are: The 2014 release of the World Magnetic Model; CrownMag, a citizen science application and experiment; and work to determine of someday, magnetometers could help detect tsunamis in real-time (spoiler alert: they could).

Public Health and Life Sciences:

Winner: NIST MRI Precision Biomedical Imaging (NIST)
The NIST team is recognized for advancing the forefront of biomedical imaging by developing a broad suite of calibration “phantoms” to enable quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for the unambiguous measurement of disease progression and treatment efficacy. Each phantom in the team’s toolbox is targeted to ensure quantitative MRI images for the different medical needs, including traumatic brain injury, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, breast cancer, and general imaging. Thease standards are in use in multi-site clinical trials around the world. Through quick action, the NIST team has transferred phantom development to Colorado-based High Precision Devices, Inc. to enable more widespread adoption of the MRI phantom protocols.


Winner: Next Generation Weather Model Allows First-Ever
Hyper Local Forecasts (NOAA, Earth System Research Laboratory)

NOAA researchers in Boulder developed an innovative weather model and transitioned it into National Weather Service offices across the country, saving lives and property. The High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model, developed during several years of intense research, is now giving emergency managers, pilots, and wind farm operators a more accurate depiction of hazardous weather, including critical details in rapidly changing and evolving weather events. The HRRR is providing forecasters with more information on snow bands in winter storms; pilots with better ceiling and visibility forecasts so they can maneuver around dangerous conditions; and air traffic managers much improved information on developing thunderstorms. This allows for earlier watches and warnings, giving communities more time to prepare for high-impact weather.


Honorable Mentions:

(a) NIST Precision Signal Measurement Team (NIST) (Foundational Science and Technology)
The team of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) leads the world’s best research and measurement program in ultra-precise electromagnetic signals spanning the radio frequency to optical range. The team’s crucial measurements include quantities that describe how precision signals for high value applications deviate from “perfect” performance, including phase noise – a measure of timing jitter, spectral purity – how signals deviate from one single perfect frequency, and vibration/acceleration noise – how signals are distorted when the signal source and/or receiver are subject to real-world vibrations and jostling.

(b) Getting Useful Climate Science to Decision Makers (CIRES) (Sustainability)
Getting useful climate science to decision makers: The CIRES Western Water Assessment, led by Lisa Dilling, delivers actionable science to people, communities, governments and other organizations seeking to build resilience to climate change and variability. With a focus on the Intermountain West (Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming) and relying on applied research, this NOAA-funded program has built powerful and effective collaborations to generate policy-relevant science that’s both useful and used. In the last two years, WWA’s work has helped key Western institutions – the state of Colorado, Salt Lake City, the Navajo Nation, the Western Governors’ Association – understand the potential impacts of environmental change, and develop the capacity to prepare for such changes, building resiliency.

"These projects highlight the diversity and impact of the science and technology coming out of Colorado’s labs that make our state and the world a better place,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “These awardees prove that collaboration, innovation and incredible vision between the labs, Colorado’s research universities and private sector partners can result in remarkable achievements that make Colorado and our world smarter, safer, healthier and more sustainable."

“Researchers in Colorado’s federal laboratories continue to lead the nation with valuable study that addresses some of today’s most pressing problems,” said Scott Sternberg, chair of CO-LABS. “Our annual ceremony does more than just recognize new discoveries, it also celebrates the impact research and science have on our state.”

Colorado has one of the highest per capita concentrations of federal science, research and engineering facilities in the nation. The state has 30 federally funded research labs with renowned scientists whose research has global impact in a range of fields including agriculture, climate and weather, earth science, materials science, natural resource management, renewable energy, space physics and telecommunications. The labs employ nearly 8,000 scientists and engineers and contribute more than $2.3 billion to the state economy each year, supporting innovation and growth in high- tech industries.

CO-LABS is a non-profit consortium of federal laboratories, research institutions, businesses and economic development organizations that provide financial and in-kind support for programs that promote the retention and expansion of Colorado scientific resources. Through events, economic analyses, strategic communications and networking activities we work to:

• PROMOTE Colorado as a global leader in research and technology
• EDUCATE the public about the labs’ impact and importance of sustained funding for research
• CONNECT the labs, universities and businesses to facilitate partnerships and technology transfer

Since 2009 the Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research has honored Colorado scientists and engineers from the state’s federally funded research laboratories for outstanding achievements. Each year a special committee appointed by the CO-LABS Board of Directors reviews nominations from Colorado’s labs and selects projects that have had a significant global, national or state impact resulting from a scientific breakthrough, change in public policy or development of a new technology. To learn more, visit


CO-LABS Media Contact
Dan Powers
CO-LABS Executive Director