Jenniffer Love-Pruitt ’81, a graduate of the Valparaiso University College of Engineering, played a major role in pushing the boundaries of science and our understanding of space with her incredible work on the James Webb Space Telescope (WEBB). Love-Pruitt was the electrical vehicle engineering lead for Northrop Grumman, a major engineering firm partnering with NASA on the WEBB project.
WEBB, a monumental feat of science and engineering, is the largest, most powerful, and most complex space telescope ever built, far exceeding the abilities of its predecessor — the famous Hubble Telescope — with the ability to scan in infrared. Scientists believe that WEBB will allow them to see the light from the beginning of the universe and the formation of the first stars, as well as look at the atmospheres of planets orbiting stars beyond our own.
Jennifer and her team were responsible for all electronic systems of the telescope, minus the scientific instruments provided by NASA itself. This included components for several vital steps in getting the telescope to Lagrange Point 2 (or L2), the optimal point for keeping WEBB in a stable, relative position with Earth while both orbit the sun, as well as the successful deployment of WEBB’s solar power systems.
For 29 days starting on Christmas day of 2021, Jennifer monitored hundreds of individual actions throughout the journey, the failure of any one of which could have jeopardized the success of the mission. Thanks to the incredible work of her and her team, and the international cooperation of engineers and scientists involved in the project, WEBB has now successfully reached L2 and has begun sending pictures back to Earth.
Jennifer credits a lot of her professional experience to her experience at Valpo.
“I walked out with a really solid technical foundation,” Jennifer says. “The liberal arts classes then took that and made me more well-rounded. That mix let me walk away with the full picture.”
Jennifer received the Distinguished Alumna Award at Homecoming 2022.