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James A. Van Allen to receive honorary degree from Johns
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- James A. Van Allen, Regent Distinguished
Professor of Physics at the University of Iowa and a founding father of space
exploration, will receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from Johns
Hopkins University Thursday, May 27 during commencement exercises in Baltimore.
Although he retired from teaching in 1985, Van Allen
continues to conduct research using data from scientific instruments of his
own design on board Pioneer 10 and earlier spacecraft.
The Johns Hopkins announcement reads, in part:
"Whenever we look at animated weather maps, hear
satellite broadcasts or get news of NASA's latest sojourns, we can tip our hats
to James Van Allen's lifetime devoted to space science, technology and education.
In 1942, he set up work in a converted garage that became the first home of
the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. His design for a rugged vacuum
tube, out of which 80 million devices were produced during World War II, helped
turn the tide of battle. During the 1950s, he built a consensus for the International
Geophysical Year, stimulating the flowering of artificial satellites, the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration and a half century of efflorescent space
science. The Van Allen radiation belt, named in his honor, is only one example
of the mark he has left on the world."
Born in Mount Pleasant, Van Allen, 84, received his
bachelor's degree in physics, summa cum laude, from Iowa Wesleyan College in
1935. While an undergraduate at Iowa Wesleyan, he assisted the senior scientist
of the second Byrd Expedition to Antarctica in preparing seismic and magnetic
equipment for measurements on that continent. He earned his master's and doctorate
from the University of Iowa in 1936 and 1939, respectively.
From 1940 through 1942, he helped develop radio proximity
fuses for artillery shells to improve anti-aircraft defense of ships. Sponsored
by the National Defense Research Council, his work was conducted at the Carnegie
Institution of Washington and at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins
University. In November 1942, he was commissioned as a naval officer, and he
served 16 months on various ships in the South Pacific Fleet as an ordnance
and gunnery specialist.
In 1946, Van Allen returned to the Applied Physics Laboratory
where he organized and directed a team to conduct high-altitude experimental
work using V2 and Aerobee rockets. In January 1951, Van Allen became professor
and head of the University of Iowa department of physics
and astronomy, a position he held until he retired from teaching in 1985. In
the summer of 1951, he accepted a Guggenheim research fellowship at the Brookhaven
Van Allen played an important role in planning the 1957-58
International Geophysical Year (IGY) which culminated in the Jan. 31, 1958 launch
of Explorer 1 and its scientific payload. Van Allen's instruments included a
Geiger counter, which provided information that the Earth is surrounded by regions
of intense radiation, later called the Van Allen radiation belt. The discovery
marked the birth of the research field of magnetospheric physics, an enterprise
that grew to involve more than 1,000 investigators in more than 20 countries.
At the University of Iowa, where researchers have designed
and built scientific instruments for some 57 successful U.S. satellites and
space probes, his work has resulted in a strong teaching and research program.
Van Allens research includes the1973 first-ever survey of Jupiters
radiation belts using the Pioneer 10 spacecraft and the1979 discovery and survey
of Saturns radiation belts using Pioneer 11.
Van Allen, a member of the National Academy of Sciences
since 1959, has received many honors during his illustrious career, including
the 1994 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize from the Division of Planetary Sciences of the
American Astronomical Society and the 1994 NASA Lifetime Achievement Award on
the occasion of his 80th birthday and the American Geophysical Union's 75th
In 1987 ceremonies at the White House, he was presented
with the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for scientific
achievement, by President Ronald Reagan. And in 1989 he received the Crafoord
Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and presented
by the King of Sweden. The Crafoord Prize is the highest award the Academy can
bestow for research in a number of scientific fields and, for space exploration,
is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize.