Dr. David G. Koch passed away on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012 in Elm Grove, WI. He was 67.
He was born and raised in Milwaukee, WI, and attended Milwaukee Lutheran High School where he built a Michelson interferometer, an instrument used to study the properties of light. This interferometer proved to be a stepping-stone for Koch to study physics.
Koch graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics and engineering physics in 1967. At Cornell University, Koch earned a master's degree in 1971, and a doctorate in 1972, both in physics.
His career began at American Science and Engineering Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., where he worked in X-ray astronomy from 1972 to 1977. He was project scientist for the Uhuru X-ray satellite in NASA's Explorer Program, doing data analysis and producing X-ray catalogs. Later, he served as the project scientist for the development of the Einstein Observatory, the first X-ray telescope satellite and a predecessor to Chandra.
Koch joined the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge in 1977, as project scientist for the Spacelab-2 infrared telescope. While there, he served as a co-investigator on the Space Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) - Infrared Array Camera IRAC camera proposal, and co-investigator on the small explorer Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite, which launched in December 1998.
In 1988, Koch came to Ames to lead the mission operations for SIRTF and SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). He was the last project scientist for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, and in 1992, he created the Flight Opportunities for Science Teacher EnRichment (FOSTER) project.
In 1992, he began working on what has become the NASA Kepler mission, for which he served as deputy principal investigator until retiring in August 2011. Koch's contributions were many but most notably, he developed the Kepler Technology Demonstration used to prove that the transit photometry method would work under simulated operating and noise conditions. In particular, he devised the method to demonstrate that Earth-size transits could be detected with a commercial off-the-shelf CCD (charge-coupled device) detector, which involved passing a small (mA) current through a ribbon wire across a rectangular aperture in a steel plate, thereby increasing the width of the wire by about the size of copper atom and blocking .01% of the light passing through the hole.
Koch loved to build things and was passionate about engaging young hearts and minds with the excitement of science and space exploration. He was particularly fond of educating and empowering teachers with the right tools to connect with the formal and informal classroom. Koch was a patient, intelligent man, who enjoyed a good cartoon or Internet joke, and believed and lauded the importance of Kepler's space exploration.
The Kepler team says thank you and farewell to a dear team member and friend who will be remembered for his smile, humor, and commitment to education and public outreach.
Funeral services were held Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 in Elm Grove, WI. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in memory of Dr. David Koch to Milwaukee Lutheran High School, 9700 W. Grantosa Dr., Milwaukee, WI 53222.
Koch is survived by his wife, three children, two grandchildren, a brother, and two sisters.
See also Kepler Team Reflections on Dave Koch.
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