John Winston Belcher

Class of 1922 Professor of Physics, Emeritus
Research interests are within the areas of space plasma physics, in particular the interaction of the heliosphere with the local interstellar medium.
Headshot of John Belcher
(617) 253-4285
Office: 37-695
Assistant: Thea Paneth
Assistant Phone: (617) 253-3718

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.

Courtesy of xTalks Office of Digital Learning | YouTube

Biographic 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.

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Asking for help – Physics Professor John Belcher gives a very candid description of his own experience with depression.
Courtesy of MIT MindHandHeart

Awards & Honors

  • 2016 // Hans Christian Oersted Medal of the American Association of Physics Teachers
  • 2008 // APS Fellow
  • 2004 // Class of 1922 Professor for recognition as a “tenured faculty member with a record of excellence in education with respect to both curriculum development and classroom teaching.”
  • 2004 // Dean’s Educational and Student Advising Award of the School of Science
  • 1990 // NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal
  • 1980 // NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal

Key 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.