James Van Allen

  • James Van Allen Dr. James Alfred Van Allen (1914-2006) was born September 7, 1914 in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. He was an American space scientist in the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Iowa. Some have even called Dr. Van Allen the Father of Space Science. Van Allen's scientific instruments were placed on board the very first successful American satellites, Explorer 1 and Explorer 3, launched in 1958. The instruments provided data for the first space-age scientific discovery: the existence of a doughnut-shaped region of charged particle radiation trapped by Earth's magnetic field. Thus, the Van Allen Radiation Belts were named after Dr. James Van Allen. 

    Along with his colleagues, Van Allen sent instruments to the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, as well as throughout interplanetary space. Dr. Van Allen served as the principal investigator on more than 25 space science missions, authored nearly 200 papers, all the while directing the dissertations of many PhD. graduate students in space physics. 

    During his lifetime, Dr. Van Allen received many prestigious awards including being named TIME magazine Man of the Year in 1960. In 1987 President Reagan presented Van Allen with the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for scientific achievement. Dr. Van Allen retired from The University of Iowa in 1985, but continued to live in Iowa City and served as the Carver Professor of Physics, Emeritus almost until the day he passed away. In August, 2005 Dr. Van Allen, along with his wife Abigail, opened Van Allen Elementary School. The school was a source of great pride for the Van Allen family. Dr. Van Allen died on August 9, 2006. 

    "I've never thought of myself as particularly brilliant. I've run across so many people in my life that can run circles around me in sheer brilliance and understanding, but I don't run across many that have the same quality of persistence and perseverance that I do. When I am really onto something, I am going to still be on it ten years later if that is what it takes to get the answer. It's the kind of thing that keeps driving me onward is that there is always something you should know if you really want to get the whole picture." -Dr. James Van Allen, Flights of Discovery, copyright, 2000.