A 36-year veteran University of Hawaiʻi astronomer captured a major national designation for his contributions to astronomy. Alan Tokunaga, who retired from the UH Institute for Astronomy (IfA) in 2016, has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Fellows are elected annually by the AAAS Council, and are recognized for their achievements in research, teaching and technology; administration in academia, industry and government; and excellence in communicating and interpreting science to the public.
“To me, it’s a privilege to have had the opportunity to study the universe,” Tokunaga expressed. “I think it’s important for society to know our place in the universe. By having this perspective of where we are, it makes me think that our planet Earth and life is very precious.”
During his decades-long career at IfA,Tokunaga specialized in building astronomical instrumentation and conducting research in solar system, interstellar medium and star formation. He began working at IfA in 1980 as a support astronomer and later served as director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility on Maunakea 2000–16. The 3.2-meter telescope is one of several observatories on Maunakea and Haleakalā that play a key role in the nation’s planetary defense system.
Tokunaga remains busy with professional service to the Hawaiʻi astronomy community and research. He dedicates time mentoring Hawaiʻi teens at Lānaʻi High School for Maunakea Scholars, an educational outreach program where public school students can apply for observing time on Hawaiʻi telescopes. Tokunaga has also participated in the development of A Hua He Inoa, a program where Hawaiian speaking students work with Hawaiian educators and Hawaiʻi-based astronomers on naming astronomical discoveries.
“Alan is incredibly deserving of this national recognition for his numerous contributions to astronomy,” said IfA Director Doug Simons. “His Maui roots are reflected in his deep commitments to our community and Hawaiʻi astronomy. Helping future generations through his work with local students and the A Hua He Inoa program is his passion, from which we all benefit.”
Tokunaga was inducted as a Fellow at the ceremonial Fellows Forum on January 26, 2022, a time-honored event at the AAAS annual meeting, where honorees are presented with a certificate and blue and gold rosette.