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Kenneth Sembach

Tenured Astronomer
Kenneth Sembach headshot

Dr. Kenneth Sembach is a tenured astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). From 2015 to 2022, he served as the director of STScI, an 800-person multi-mission operations center for NASA's flagship astronomical observatories and a world-class astronomical research center. During his time as director, Dr. Sembach led STScI through the successful development, launch, commissioning, and early science operations of the James Webb Space Telescope. He established the institute’s data science mission office and implemented initiatives to conduct world-class laboratory work at the institute. Under his leadership, STScI began preparing for science operations and development of the ground system for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which will continue the legacy of NASA's flagship observatories. Prior to being director, Dr. Sembach was involved in scientific, operational, and managerial aspects of the Hubble Space Telescope, having served as the head of STScI’s Hubble Mission Office from 2010 to 2015. Dr. Sembach enjoys working with government, corporate, academic, international, and public partners to help humanity explore the wonders of the universe with advanced space telescopes and data archives.

Dr. Sembach holds a PhD in astronomy from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a bachelor’s degree with honors in physics from the University of Chicago. He was a Hubble Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming a deputy project scientist for the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer space mission at Johns Hopkins University in 1996. In 2001, he was awarded the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize of the American Astronomical Society, which recognized his outstanding scientific achievement in observational astronomical research. In 2010, he was awarded the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal for his work on the last Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. He was inducted into the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars in 2014 and appointed a professor at Johns Hopkins University in 2016.

Dr. Sembach’s scientific interests include the physical properties of diffuse interstellar and intergalactic matter, the interactions of galaxies with their surrounding gaseous media, and the origin and evolution of the chemical elements as a function of cosmic time. He has authored or co-authored more than 170 papers in scholarly journals, and has contributed to hundreds of scientific conference presentations. He enjoys assembling and working with teams of talented people to achieve extraordinary results, as well as inspiring young people to become engaged in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.


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