ⓘ Lyman Spitzer

Lyman Spitzer

ⓘ Lyman Spitzer

Lyman Strong Spitzer, Jr. was an American theoretical physicist, astronomer and mountaineer. As a scientist, he carried out research into star formation, plasma physics, and in 1946, conceived the idea of telescopes operating in outer space. Spitzer invented the stellarator plasma device and is the namesake of NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope. As a mountaineer, he made the first ascent of Mount Thor, with Donald C. Morton.


1. Early life and education

Spitzer was born to a Presbyterian family in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Lyman Strong Spitzer Sr. and Blanche Carey nee Brumback. Through his paternal grandmother, he was related to inventor Eli Whitney. Spitzer graduated from Scott High School. He then attended Phillips Academy in 1929 and went on to Yale College, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1935 and was a member of Skull and Bones. During a year of study at Cambridge University, he was influenced by Arthur Eddington and the young Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. Returning to the U.S., Spitzer earned his MA from Princeton University in 1937 and his PhD in 1938, under the direction of Henry Norris Russell.


2. Mountaineering

In 1965, Spitzer and Donald Morton became the first to climb Mount Thor 1.675 m 5.495 ft, located in Auyuittuq National Park, on Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada. As a member of the American Alpine Club, Spitzer established the "Lyman Spitzer Cutting Edge Climbing Award" Now called the "Cutting Edge Grant" which gives $12.000 to several mountain climbing expeditions annually.


3. Science

Spitzers brief time as a faculty member at Yale was interrupted by his wartime work on the development of sonar. In 1947, at the age of 33, he succeeded Russell as director of Princeton University Observatory, an institution that, virtually jointly with his contemporary Martin Schwarzschild, he continued to head until 1979.

Spitzers research centered on the interstellar medium, to which he brought a deep understanding of plasma physics. In the 1930s and 1940s, he was among the first to recognize star formation 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 Universitys pioneering program in controlled thermonuclear research, renamed in 1961 as Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. He was an early proponent of space optical astronomy in general, and in particular of the project that became Hubble Space Telescope.

In 1981, Spitzer became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.


4. Death

Spitzer died suddenly on March 31, 1997 after completing a regular day of work at Princeton University. He was buried at Princeton Cemetery and was survived by wife Doreen Canaday Spitzer, four children, and ten grandchildren. Among Spitzers four children is neurobiologist Nicholas C. Spitzer, who is currently the professor and vice chair in neurobiology at UC San Diego.


5. Honors


  • James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics 1975
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 1953
  • National Medal of Science 1979
  • Henry Norris Russell Lectureship 1953
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society 1978
  • Prix Jules Janssen of the Societe astronomique de France French Astronomical Society 1980
  • Bruce Medal 1973
  • Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences 1974
  • Crafoord Prize 1985
  • Franklin Medal 1980

Named after him

  • Answer to the final question on NTN Buzztimes Showdown on September 16, 2008.
  • Asteroid 2160 Spitzer
  • Lyman Spitzer Planetarium at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, VT
  • Lyman Spitzer Library in Davenport College, Yale University
  • Lyman Spitzer Building at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in Princeton, NJ
  • Landau-Spitzer Award American Physical Society
  • Spitzer Space Telescope
  • Spitzer Building in Toledo, Ohio.
  • Plasma Confinement at JET Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion. 58.1. Spitzer Lyman Seeger, Raymond 1963 Physics of Fully Ionized Gases American
  • Richard B. Kershner Edward W. Bonnett Antonio Ferri Theodore D. Smith Lyman Spitzer Laurence J. Adams Franklin W. Kolk Walter O. Lowrie Thomas G. Pownall
  • Franklin Institute Awards. Franklin Institute. Retrieved 2016 - 01 - 30. Lyman Spitzer Jr The Franklin Institute Awards. Franklin Institute. Retrieved 2016 - 01 - 30
  • Fred Hoyle 1971 Jesse Greenstein 1972 Iosif S. Shklovskii 1973 Lyman Spitzer Jr. 1974 Martin Ryle 1975 Allan R. Sandage 1976 Ernst J. Opik
  • the evolution of an open star cluster. Viktor Ambartsumian 1938 and Lyman Spitzer 1940 showed that, from a theoretical point of view, it was impossible
  • James Lequeux 1978 - Adriaan Blaauw 1979 - Jean Kovalevsky 1980 - Lyman Spitzer 1981 - Georges Courtes 1982 - Peter van de Kamp 1983 - Jacques Levy
  • acquainted the US researchers with the British efforts. By this point Lyman Spitzer had introduced his stellarator concept and was talking the idea around
  • EGS - zs8 - 1 is a high - redshift Lyman - break galaxy found at the northern constellation of Bootes. In May 2015, EGS - zs8 - 1 had the highest spectroscopic redshift

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