JOHN W. BELCHER, Class of '22 Professor of Physics
Photo credit: Paul Rivenberg

Class of 1922 Professor of Physics

EMAIL: jbelcher@mit.edu

PHONE: (617) 253-4285

OFFICE: 37-695

ASSISTANT: Thea Paneth (617) 253-3718



Area of Physics:

Astrophysics - Space Plasma Physics

Research Interests

Professor Belcher's research interests are within the areas of space plasma physics, in particular the interaction of the heliosphere with the local interstellar medium.   He was the principal investigator on the Voyager Plasma Science Experiment during the Voyager Neptune Encounter—the end of the Grand Tour. He is now a co-investigator on the Plasma Science Experiment on board the Voyager Interstellar Mission. He has also published scholarly studies of the results of introducing interactive engagement techniques into introductory physics courses at MIT, as in TEAL.

Biographical Sketch

Professor Belcher was born in Louisiana in 1943, and graduated from Odessa High School in West Texas in 1961. He attended Rice University in Houston, graduating with a double major in math and physics in 1965, summa cum laude. He then went to Caltech for graduate school where he earned his Ph.D. in Physics in 1971.

Professor Belcher came to MIT in 1971, to work with Professors Herbert Bridge and Alan Lazarus, who had the plasma probe on board Mariner 5. Just after he arrived, the Space Plasma Group wrote a proposal for the Voyager mission to Jupiter and Saturn. After reaching these two planets, as well as Uranus and Neptune, Voyager is still going strong. In its most recent incarnation, it is referred to as the Voyager Interstellar Mission. Within the next ten years, it is probable that the MIT plasma instrument on Voyager 2 will make measurements in the interstellar medium.

Professor Belcher has twice received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, once for contributions to the understanding of the plasma dynamics of the Jovian magnetosphere, in 1980, and once for his role as principal investigator on the Plasma Science Experiment on Voyager during the Neptune encounter, in 1990. In 2004, the Institute awarded Belcher with the Class of '22 professorship, designed to honor "a tenured faculty member with a record of excellence in education, with respect to both curriculum development and classroom teaching." He is the Associate Chair of the MIT Faculty in AY 2013-2015. He is a MacVicar Faculty Fellow. He has been recently awarded a 2015 MIT Excellence awards and named an 2016 Oersted Medal Recipient.

Photo credit: Paul Rivenberg

In The News

Career History

  • B.Sc., Physics and Math, Rice University, 1965
  • Ph.D., Physics, California Institute of Technology, 1970
  • Postdoctoral fellow, Interplanetary Plasma Group, 1971
  • Assistant Professor, MIT Physics, 1971-1975
  • Associate Professor, MIT Physics, 1975-1982
  • Professor, MIT Physics, 1982-Present
  • Associate Chair of the MIT Faculty, 2013-2014
  • Class of '22 Professorship, 2004-Present

Honors and Awards

  • 2016 Hans Christian Oersted Medal of the American Association of Physics Teachers
  • 2008 APS Fellow
  • 1990 NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal
  • 1980 NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal

Selected Publications

  • Dori Y. J. and J.W. Belcher, How Does Technology-Enabled Active Learning Affect Undergraduate Students’ Understanding of Electromagnetism Concepts?, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14(2), 243-279, 2005.
  • Belcher, John W., Alan J. Lazarus, Ralph L. McNutt, Jr. and George S. Gordon, Jr., Solar Wind Conditions in the Outer Heliosphere and the Distance to the Termination Shock, J. Geophys. Res. 15,177-15,183, 1993.
  • Belcher, J. W., H. S. Bridge, F. Bagenal, B. Coppi, O. Divers, A. Eviatar, G. S. Gordon, Jr., A. J. Lazarus, R. L. McNutt, Jr., K. W. Ogilvie, J. D. Richardson, G. L. Siscoe, E. C. Sittler, Jr., J. T. Steinberg, J. D. Sullivan, A. Szabo, L. Villanueva, V. M. Vasyliunas, and M. Zhang, Plasma Observations Near Neptune: Initial Results from Voyager 2, Science, 246, 1478-1483, 1989.
  • Belcher, John W., The Jupiter-Io Connection: An Alfven Engine in Space, Science 258, 133-248, 1987.
  • Belcher, J. W., C. K. Goertz, J. D. Sullivan, M. H. Acuna: Plasma Observations of the Alfven Wave Generated by Io, J.Geophys. Res. 86, 8319, 1981.
  • Belcher, J.W.: Alfven wave pressures and the solar wind, Astrophys. J. 168, 509, 1971.

Last updated on July 27, 2018 12:53 PM