Former Apollo 11 scientist awarded ethics prize

Katharine Toledo, Staff Reporter

On Sept. 13 and 14, Case Western Reserve University hosted the winner of this year’s Inamori Ethics Prize, Farouk El-Baz, Ph.D. El-Baz spoke in a lecture entitled “Groundwater for Thirsty Lands,” which was followed by an academic symposium the next day.

Since 2008, the Inamori Ethics Prize has been awarded to one individual per year who displays ethical leadership in their field. Each year, the winner of the prize is invited to CWRU for a public lecture, academic symposium and acceptance of the monetary award attached to the prize. The event is designed to support the recipient’s continued work.

El-Baz is known for his work as secretary of the lunar landing site-selection committee at NASA, and his application of space images to the exploration of groundwater in arid lands in an effort to find fresh water in countries like Egypt, India and Sudan.

In 1973, El-Baz established and directed the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. He served for 10 years before becoming vice president for science and technology at Itek Optical Systems, then joined Boston University in 1986 to create the NASA-recognized Center for Remote Sensing.

Director of the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at CWRU Dr. Shannon French described El-Baz as “having a great appreciation for teamwork and the power of diversity. An Egyptian-American immigrant, [El-Baz] believes that we can accomplish great things when we invite more voices and perspectives to the table and recognize the talent of people unlike ourselves.”

French also spoke to the character of this year’s recipient, adding, “To be the kind of ethical leader that Dr. Inamori hoped to see honored by the Inamori Ethics Prize, you not only have to work towards improving the condition of mankind, you need to inspire others to do so as well.”

According to El-Baz, his parents are his primary point of guidance for ethical behavior.

“My father set an example of ethical human behavior towards all those whom he encountered,” he said. “My mother showed great kindness and respect—and provided help—to all human beings whom she came across without distinction of social or financial status or any other factors.”

Of all the projects that El-Baz has worked on, he said that his favorite was volunteering to help the people of Darfur by using satellite image data to study deserts. El-Baz served as faculty advisor to a student group at Boston University that managed to collect $10,000 for a water well in Darfur, all from one dollar donations.

Although El-Baz retired from the Boston University’s Center for Remote Sensing this past spring, his career is far from over. He plans to continue serving on various advisory boards, including the advisory board of the National Academy of Engineering and the Geological Society of America.

Furthermore, El-Baz said he hopes to write one or more books on “the Apollo lunar exploration, practices of people of the desert, applying remote sensing technologies to archaeology to name a few topics.”