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University of Iowa News Release

July 13, 2004

Van Allen Receives American Polar Society 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, will receive the American Polar Society's (APS) Honors of the Society award in a brief ceremony at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 15 in Room 208 of Van Allen Hall on the UI campus.

Van Allen was named an award recipient during the Oct. 9-10, 2003 APS symposium held at the Byrd Polar Research Center at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, but was unable to attend.

In presenting the award, APS member and UI emeritus professor of orthodontics Bob Kremenak, said that the APS periodically presents the Honors of the Society award for distinguished polar service. The APS in its publication "The Polar Times" noted that Van Allen "served as the 'father' and initiator/prime mover of the International Geophysical Year of 1957-58."

While an undergraduate student at Iowa Wesleyan College, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, Van Allen helped prepare scientific equipment for use during the second Byrd Antarctic Expedition, 1934-35. In 1950 he led a group that fired high altitude Aerobee rockets from a ship in the Gulf of Alaska. He and his colleagues at the University of Iowa then continued research on cosmic rays and the polar aurora with balloon-launched rockets from ships off the northwestern coast of Greenland beginning in 1952.

Van Allen helped organize the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year and carried out shipboard expeditions to Greenland and thence southward to the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica in 1957 during the IGY. This pioneering work in both the Arctic and Antarctic led to his discovery of the Earth's radiation belt, later called the Van Allen radiation belt, with the first U.S. satellite, Explorer I, in early 1958.

The American Polar Society was founded in 1934 by August Howard, a friend of Admiral Richard Byrd, and Paul Siple, the Boy Scout who accompanied Byrd to Antarctica in the 1930s. The Society's purpose is to bring together people interested in Arctic and Antarctic research and exploration; to preserve the record of polar research and exploration; and to support and encourage research and exploration in polar and polar-like regions. Admiral Byrd received the first APS Honors of the Society award in 1936.

Born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Van Allen, 89, received his bachelor's degree in physics, summa cum laude, from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1935. He earned his master's degree and doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1936 and 1939, respectively.

Van Allen, a member of the National Academy of Sciences since 1959, has received many honors. 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 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, gary-galluzzo@uiowa.edu.

PHOTO: See: http://www-pi.physics.uiowa.edu/java/.