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Lyman Spitzer

Lyman Spitzer

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Lyman Strong Spitzer, Jr. (June 26, 1914 – March 31, 1997) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 theoretical physicist
Theoretical physics
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...

 and astronomer best known for his research in star formation
Star formation
Star formation is the process by which dense parts of molecular clouds collapse into a ball of plasma to form a star. As a branch of astronomy star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium and giant molecular clouds as precursors to the star formation process and the study of young...

, plasma physics
Plasma (physics)
In physics and chemistry, plasma is a state of matter similar to gas in which a certain portion of the particles are ionized. Heating a gas may ionize its molecules or atoms , thus turning it into a plasma, which contains charged particles: positive ions and negative electrons or ions...

, and in 1946, for conceiving the idea of telescopes operating in outer space
Space observatory
A space observatory is any instrument in outer space which is used for observation of distant planets, galaxies, and other outer space objects...

. Spitzer invented the stellarator
Stellarator
A stellarator is a device used to confine a hot plasma with magnetic fields in order to sustain a controlled nuclear fusion reaction. It is one of the earliest controlled fusion devices, first invented by Lyman Spitzer in 1950 and built the next year at what later became the Princeton Plasma...

 plasma device and is the namesake of NASA
NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

's Spitzer Space Telescope
Spitzer Space Telescope
The Spitzer Space Telescope , formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility is an infrared space observatory launched in 2003...

.

Early life and education


Spitzer was born in Toledo, Ohio, and graduated from Scott High School. He then attended Phillips Academy
Phillips Academy
Phillips Academy is a selective, co-educational independent boarding high school for boarding and day students in grades 9–12, along with a post-graduate year...

 in 1929 and went on to Yale College
Yale College
Yale College was the official name of Yale University from 1718 to 1887. The name now refers to the undergraduate part of the university. Each undergraduate student is assigned to one of 12 residential colleges.-Residential colleges:...

, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1935 and was a member of Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones
Skull and Bones is an undergraduate senior or secret society at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. It is a traditional peer society to Scroll and Key and Wolf's Head, as the three senior class 'landed societies' at Yale....

. During a year of study at Cambridge University, he was influenced by Arthur Eddington and the young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, FRS ) was an Indian origin American astrophysicist who, with William A. Fowler, won the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics for key discoveries that led to the currently accepted theory on the later evolutionary stages of massive stars...

. Returning to the U.S., Spitzer earned his MA from Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 in 1937 and his PhD in 1939, under the direction of Henry Norris Russell
Henry Norris Russell
Henry Norris Russell was an American astronomer who, along with Ejnar Hertzsprung, developed the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram . In 1923, working with Frederick Saunders, he developed Russell–Saunders coupling which is also known as LS coupling.-Biography:Russell was born in 1877 in Oyster Bay, New...

.

Career


Spitzer's brief time as a faculty member at Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 was interrupted by his wartime work on the development of sonar
Sonar
Sonar is a technique that uses sound propagation to navigate, communicate with or detect other vessels...

. In 1947, at the age of 33, he succeeded Russell
Henry Norris Russell
Henry Norris Russell was an American astronomer who, along with Ejnar Hertzsprung, developed the Hertzsprung–Russell diagram . In 1923, working with Frederick Saunders, he developed Russell–Saunders coupling which is also known as LS coupling.-Biography:Russell was born in 1877 in Oyster Bay, New...

 as director of Princeton University Observatory, an institution that, virtually jointly with his contemporary
Martin Schwarzschild
Martin Schwarzschild
Martin Schwarzschild was a German American astronomer. He was the son of famed astrophysicist Karl Schwarzschild and the nephew of the Swiss astrophysicist Robert Emden.-Biography:...

, he continued to head until 1979.

Spitzer's research centered on the interstellar medium
Interstellar medium
In astronomy, the interstellar medium is the matter that exists in the space between the star systems in a galaxy. This matter includes gas in ionic, atomic, and molecular form, dust, and cosmic rays. It fills interstellar space and blends smoothly into the surrounding intergalactic space...

, to which he brought a deep understanding of plasma
Astrophysical plasma
An astrophysical plasma is a plasma the physical properties of which are studied as part of astrophysics. Much of the baryonic matter of the universe is thought to consist of plasma, a state of matter in which atoms and molecules are so hot, that they have ionized by breaking up into their...

 physics. In the 1930s and 1940s, he was among the first to recognize star formation
Star formation
Star formation is the process by which dense parts of molecular clouds collapse into a ball of plasma to form a star. As a branch of astronomy star formation includes the study of the interstellar medium and giant molecular clouds as precursors to the star formation process and the study of young...

 as an ongoing contemporary process. His monographs, "Diffuse Matter in Space" (1968) and
"Physical Processes in the Interstellar Medium" (1978) consolidated decades of work, and themselves became the standard texts for some decades more.

Spitzer was the founding director of Project Matterhorn, Princeton University's pioneering program in controlled thermonuclear research, renamed in 1961 as Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory for plasma physics and nuclear fusion science located on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey. Its primary mission is research into and development of fusion as an...

. He was an early proponent of space optical astronomy in general, and in particular of the project that became Hubble Space Telescope
Hubble Space Telescope
The Hubble Space Telescope is a space telescope that was carried into orbit by a Space Shuttle in 1990 and remains in operation. A 2.4 meter aperture telescope in low Earth orbit, Hubble's four main instruments observe in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared...

.

Death


Spitzer died suddenly on March 31, 1997 after having completed a regular working day at Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

. He was survived by wife Doreen Canaday Spitzer, four children, and ten grandchildren. Among Spitzer's four children is neurobiologist Nicholas C. Spitzer, who is currently the professor and vice chair in neurobiology at UC San Diego
University of California, San Diego
The University of California, San Diego, commonly known as UCSD or UC San Diego, is a public research university located in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, California, United States...

.

Honors


Awards
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

     (1953)
  • Henry Norris Russell Lectureship
    Henry Norris Russell Lectureship
    The Henry Norris Russell Lectureship is awarded each year by the American Astronomical Society in recognition of a lifetime of excellence in astronomical research.-Previous lecturers:This list of lecturers is from the American Astronomical Society's website....

     (1953)
  • Bruce Medal
    Bruce Medal
    The Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal is awarded every year by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for outstanding lifetime contributions to astronomy. It is named after Catherine Wolfe Bruce, an American patroness of astronomy, and was first awarded in 1898...

     (1973)
  • Henry Draper Medal
    Henry Draper Medal
    The Henry Draper Medal is awarded by the United States National Academy of Sciences "for investigations in astronomical physics". Named after Henry Draper, the medal is awarded with a gift of USD $15,000...

     of the National Academy of Sciences
    United States National Academy of Sciences
    The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

     (1974)
  • James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics (1975)
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
    Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
    -History:In the early years, more than one medal was often awarded in a year, but by 1833 only one medal was being awarded per year. This caused a problem when Neptune was discovered in 1846, because many felt an award should jointly be made to John Couch Adams and Urbain Le Verrier...

     (1978)
  • National Medal of Science
    National Medal of Science
    The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

     (1979)
  • Franklin Medal
    Franklin Medal
    The Franklin Medal was a science and engineering award presented by the Franklin Institute, of Philadelphia, PA, USA.-Laureates:*1915 - Thomas Alva Edison *1915 - Heike Kamerlingh Onnes *1916 - John J...

     (1980)
  • Prix Jules Janssen
    Prix Jules Janssen
    The Prix Jules Janssen is the highest award of the French Astronomical Society. Created in 1897 and awarded annually, it is usually given in alternate years to a French astronomer, and to an astronomer of another nationality. It is distinct from the Janssen Medal , which is awarded by the French...

     of the French Astronomical Society (1980)
  • Crafoord Prize
    Crafoord Prize
    The Crafoord Prize is an annual science prize established in 1980 by Holger Crafoord, a Swedish industrialist, and his wife Anna-Greta Crafoord...

     (1985)


Named after him
  • Asteroid
    Asteroid
    Asteroids are a class of small Solar System bodies in orbit around the Sun. They have also been called planetoids, especially the larger ones...

     2160 Spitzer
    2160 Spitzer
    2160 Spitzer is the name of an asteroid which was discovered at Goethe Link Observatory near Brooklyn, Indiana by the Indiana Asteroid Program.-External links:...

  • Spitzer Space Telescope
    Spitzer Space Telescope
    The Spitzer Space Telescope , formerly the Space Infrared Telescope Facility is an infrared space observatory launched in 2003...

  • Lyman Spitzer Library in Davenport College
    Davenport College
    Davenport College is one of the twelve residential colleges of Yale University. Its buildings were completed in 1933 mainly in the Georgian style but with a gothic façade. The college was named for John Davenport, who founded Yale's home city of New Haven, Connecticut...

    , Yale University
  • Lyman Spitzer Building at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
    Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
    Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory for plasma physics and nuclear fusion science located on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey. Its primary mission is research into and development of fusion as an...

     in Princeton, NJ
  • Answer to the final question on NTN Buzztime's Showdown on September 16, 2008.

External links