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Release: Dec. 4, 2000

UI researcher to deliver prestigious Niels Bohr Lecture

IOWA CITY, Iowa —- Louis A. Frank, Carver/James A. Van Allen Professor of Physics at the University of Iowa, will deliver a Niels Bohr Lecture, "A Cosmic Rain of Small Comets Into Our Atmosphere," Wednesday, March 14 at the Niels Bohr Institute for Astronomy, Physics and Geophysics in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Niels Bohr Lectures, named for the Danish physicist and 1922 Nobel Laureate, are invited lectures given by internationally prominent scientists three or four times each year. The lectures are sponsored by the Danish Space Research Institute and the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Frank, a UI faculty member since 1964, earned his bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctorate at the UI in 1960, 1961 and 1964, respectively. His first professional research activities occurred in 1958 when he assisted Professor Van Allen in the calibration of scientific instruments aboard the first U. S. lunar probes, Pioneers 3 and 4, as an undergraduate student. Since then he has been an experimenter, co-investigator, or principal investigator for instruments on 42 spacecraft. The types of instrumentation include those used to observe the Earth's auroras, as well as those used to measure energetic charged particles and thin, electrically charged gases called plasmas. He has been, or currently is, the principal investigator for plasma instruments on 14 spacecraft. He is the principal investigator for the auroral imaging instruments for the Dynamics Explorer Mission, the plasma instrumentation for the Galileo Mission to Jupiter, the U. S. plasma instrumentation for the Japanese Geotail spacecraft, and the camera for visible wavelengths for the Polar spacecraft of the International Solar Terrestrial Physics (ISTP) Program.

His publication topics include the first direct measurements of the terrestrial ring electrical current and of the polar cusp of the northern lights, the current systems in Earth's magnetotail (a fan-shaped flow of particles on the side of the Earth opposite the sun), the plasma tori (donut-shaped rings of particles) at Jupiter and at Saturn, and global imaging of Earth's auroral zones and atmosphere. He is perhaps best known to the general public for his small comet theory. The theory, developed with UI research scientist John Sigwarth from data gathered from the Polar satellite, holds that about 20 snow comets weighing 20 to 40 tons each disintegrate in the Earth’s atmosphere every minute. Over millions of years, the comets would have accounted for virtually all of the Earth's water.

His current research interests include magnetospheric plasmas in the vicinity of Earth, wave-plasma instabilities, active experiments in the ionosphere, interpretation of auroral images in terms of global convection and current systems, the Jovian magnetosphere and its relationship with the Galilean satellites, computed tomography, geocoronal hydrogen, comets, and optics. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the American Physical Society, a member of the American Astronomical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Academy of Astronautics, and a recipient of the National Space Act Award.