Van Allen House Heritage Museum – Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

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Description – This is the birthplace and early home of Dr. James A. Van Allen, physicist noted for his role in United States space explorations, including the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts. This Italianate home was built by his grandfather in 1862 and remained in the family until 1996. Several of the rooms have been furnished with period furniture—some from the family—and displays have been developed on Dr. Van Allen, his family life and education, and his and other members of the family accomplishments. Information concerning Henry County can also be obtained there.

Admission – None

Directions – four blocks west of the town square, on U. S. Highway 34

Hours – 10:00 a. m. – 3:00 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (or by appointment)

Credit Cards – None

Phone – (319) 385-2460 or (800) 421-4282

James A. Van Allen was born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, on September 7, 1914. He received his Ph.D. in physics from University of Iowa in 1939 and became a Research Fellow at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism until 1942. A Navy officer during World War II, he worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), where he helped develop the proximity fuse, and then sailed with the Pacific Fleet to advise on the use and operation of this important device. After the war, he worked at APL on instrumenting V-2 rockets for scientific research and on various rocket- and balloon-borne instruments for studying cosmic rays at high altitudes and high latitudes. He also headed the development of the first sounding rocket, the Aerobee. In 1951 he returned to the University of Iowa as Head of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, where he has remained an active and respected scientist and teacher.

It was at Van Allen’s home in 1950 that he, Sidney Chapman, Lloyd Berkner, S. Fred Singer, Harry Vestine, and others developed the first plans for an International Geophysical Year (IGY), a coordinated, international, and comprehensive study of Earth for an 18-month period from July 1957 through December 1958. This first integrated study of Earth as a planet ushered in the space age by providing the model for large-scale, government-funded science and because the United States and the Soviet Union included the first satellite launchings in their contributions. Van Allen’s instruments were aboard the first successful American satellites, Explorers 1 and 3, launched in 1958, and 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. With various colleagues he sent instruments to the Moon (Explorer 35), Venus (Mariners 2 and 5), Mars (Mariner 4), Jupiter (Pioneers 10 and 11), and Saturn and throughout interplanetary space, serving as principal investigator on more than 25 space science missions. Author of nearly 200 papers, he personally directed the dissertations of most of the scores young scientists receiving Ph.D. degrees in space physics from the University of Iowa.

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