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University of Iowa News Release

Dec. 19, 2003

UI's Van Allen Receives 2004 National Space Grant Award

James A. Van Allen, Regent Distinguished Professor of Physics in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a founding father of space exploration, has been named the recipient of the 2004 National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award by the National Space Grant Foundation.

He will be honored during a reception and banquet March 24, 2004 at the Marriott Crystal Gateway Hotel in Arlington, Va.

The award recognizes individuals who have shown exceptional dedication in their efforts to support and promote aerospace technology, science and education, consistent with the goals of the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. This is the second such award presented, with the first having gone to former Secretary of the Treasury and U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in 2003.

In a prepared statement, the National Space Grant Foundation noted that although Van Allen retired from teaching in 1985, he continues to counsel students and researchers of all ages and to publish scientific papers. The organization concluded, "It is for this continuing and exemplary work as a mentor that he is recognized with this award."

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 -- the first successful U.S. satellite -- and its scientific payload. Among the instruments he prepared for Explorer 1 was 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 around the world.

Born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Van Allen, 89, 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 degree and doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1936 and 1939, respectively.

From 1940 through 1942, he helped develop radio proximity fuses for naval projectiles 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 UI 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 National Laboratory.

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 Allen's research includes the 1973 first-ever survey of Jupiter's radiation belts using the Pioneer 10 spacecraft and the 1979 discovery and survey of Saturn's 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 anniversary.

In 1987 ceremonies at the White House, President Ronald Reagan presented him with the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for scientific achievement. 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.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 301, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009,