Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deceased--Arthur R. Kantrowitz

Arthur R. Kantrowitz
Unknown 1913 to November 29th, 2008

Heart Specialist Dr. Andrian Kantrowitz [left] with Dr. Arthur Kantrowitz [right]

June 1966


"Arthur R. Kantrowitz, Whose Wide-Ranging Research Had Many Applications, Is Dead at 95"


Dennis Overbye

December 9th, 2008

The New York Times

Arthur R. Kantrowitz, a physicist and engineer whose research on the behavior of superhot gases and fluid dynamics led to nose cones for rockets, heart-assist pumps and the idea of nuclear fusion in magnetic bottles, among many other things, died in Manhattan on Nov. 29. He was 95.

His death was announced by his family.

In a career that was often far ahead of its time, Dr. Kantrowitz ranged from aviation and space to medicine and public policy, where he championed the formation of a "science court" for resolving controversies. He founded and directed the Avco Everett Research Laboratory in Massachusetts, taught at Cornell and Dartmouth, and served on the Advisory Group on Anticipated Advances in Science and Technology in the Ford administration and on the board of the television program "Nova."

It was at a Thanksgiving Day party in 1954 that Dr. Kantrowitz, then a Cornell professor, made his connection with the space program. At the party was Victor Emanuel, the chairman of the Avco Corporation, an aerospace company, who mentioned the problems missile engineers were having developing ballistic missiles that could survive re-entry into the atmosphere at 18,000 miles an hour, when friction can create temperatures of thousands of degrees. Such conditions could not be duplicated in wind tunnels, and it would probably require years of expensive flight tests to solve the problem, Mr. Emanuel complained.

Dr. Kantrowitz replied that he could do it in six months in a laboratory. Avco promptly offered to build him one, in the Boston suburbs. Using a so-called shock tube that would release a pulse of gas through thinned air, creating shock waves and temperatures of up to a million degrees or more, Dr. Kantrowitz and his colleagues simulated re-entry conditions and quickly determined that the best approach would be to coat the missile’s nose cone with a skin made of a material that would slowly burn away.

In April 1958, a charred nose cone was retrieved from the Atlantic Ocean after an intercontinental flight on a Thor-Able rocket and 12,000-degree re-entry with just the amount of ablation, or burn-away, that Dr. Kantrowitz had calculated.

"The recovery of that nose cone," Dr, Kantrowitz later said, "gave the first really solid authentication of the shock tube work that had been done several years before."

The nose cone went into the Smithsonian, Avco set up a factory to produce nose cones for missiles and Dr. Kantrowitz became one of the first technological heroes of the space program.

Arthur Robert Kantrowitz was born in 1913 in the Bronx, the eldest of four children, three brothers and a sister. His father, Bernard, was a doctor, and his mother, Rose, designed costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies. At age 11, he was kicked out of the private Ethical Culture School in Manhattan for showing no promise.

He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and entered Columbia, determined to study science. "I knew I wanted to be a physicist even before I knew the word," he recalled in the 1961 book "Men of Space, Volume 3."

As a boy, he collaborated with his younger brother Adrian, later America's first heart transplant surgeon, to fashion an electrocardiogram device out of spare radio parts. Adrian Kantrowitz died on Nov. 14.

After receiving bachelor's and master's degrees in physics from Columbia in 1936, he went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, the precursor to NASA, at Langley Field in Virginia. It was there, in 1938, that he and Eastman N. Jacobs, his boss, did an experiment that might have changed the world, had they succeeded.

The idea was to harness the energy source that powers the sun, the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, by heating hydrogen with radio waves while squeezing the gas with a magnetic field. At the time, nobody had ever tried to produce a fusion reaction; the Manhattan Project and other attempts to create nuclear fission were still in their infancy.

Knowing that their superiors would disapprove of anything as outlandish as atomic energy, they labeled their machine the Diffusion Inhibitor, and worked on it only at night. The experiment failed, and before the experimenters could figure out why, their director found out about the project and canceled it. Physicists unaware of the Langley experiment later reinvented the idea of thermonuclear fusion in a magnetic bottle, and they are still trying to make it work.

"It was a heartbreaking experience," Dr. Kantrowitz recalled. "I had just built a whole future around this; I wanted to make it a career."

He turned his attention to completing a paper about gas dynamics under the tutelage of Edward Teller, for which Columbia awarded him a Ph.D. in 1947. By then he was already teaching at Cornell.

In 1943, he married Rosalind Joseph, a biochemist. That marriage ended in divorce, and she died in 2005. Dr. Kantrowitz is survived by his second wife, Lee Stuart of Hanover, N.H.; three daughters, Barbara Kantrowitz of London, Lore Kantrowitz of Lexington, Mass., Andrea Kantrowitz of Pelham, N.Y.; and six grandchildren.

In 1956, Dr. Kantrowitz left Cornell to work full time at the Avco Everett laboratory, where he used the shock tube to explore the properties of the hot electrified gases known as plasmas. In 1959, he and his team confirmed a conjecture by the British cosmologist Thomas Gold that disturbances on the sun could send shock waves through the solar system at millions of miles an hour, creating blasts of charged particles and magnetic storms.

The team also explored ways to generate electricity from jets of hot gas and developed high-powered lasers that, Dr. Kantrowitz suggested, could be used one day to propel spacecraft away from the Earth.

He also revisited his childhood collaborations with his brother Adrian. In the 1960s, he and a group of other scientists and surgeons developed the intra-aorta balloon pump. Inserted into a femoral artery, the device expands and contracts to help the heart move blood. It has been used on three million people, including Dr. Kantrowitz himself after he suffered a heart attack on Nov. 28.

Dr. Kantrowitz retired from Avco in 1978 and joined the Dartmouth faculty. In his later years he spoke out about the need for a "science court," in which the scientific side of controversies like the use of pesticides and nuclear reactors could be adjudicated by experts. In 1975, he was chairman of a presidential task force looking into the idea.

Dr. Kantrowitz never lost his faith in science and in humanity's ability to solve its problems.

Writing in this newspaper in 1971, he said: "I submit that a space program directed toward exhibiting that there are no visible limits to man’s future in the universe could be a most important help in reviving faith in the hope of progress. I can imagine nothing more relevant to our current problems."

"Arthur Kantrowitz dies at 95; physicist pioneered rocket nose cones, intra-aorta pumps"

Though his expertise was in fluid mechanics, his interests were wide-ranging, including early experiments in nuclear fusion and fighting for the creation of a science court.


John Johnson Jr.

December 15the, 2008

Los Angeles Times

Arthur R. Kantrowitz, a physicist and inventor whose research pioneered the development of nose cones for rockets as well as pumps to help failing hearts move blood more effectively, died of heart failure Nov. 29 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He was 95.

Though his expertise was in fluid mechanics, particularly the behavior of super-hot gases in confined spaces, Kantrowitz's interests ranged far and wide, from early experiments in nuclear fusion, the energy source that powers stars, to fighting for the creation of a science court. Such a court, consisting of experts in a variety of fields, he reasoned, could help judges and policymakers decide questions such as whether certain pesticides were harmful.

"For lawyers, science is a mythical activity," Kantrowitz said in a 1999 interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education. He hoped that a science court would help demystify the scientific process.

The seeds of Kantrowitz's most significant contribution to the space program were sown at a Thanksgiving party in 1954. According to the New York Times, Kantrowitz, then a professor at Cornell University, listened as an early rocket scientist described the difficulties of designing nose cones that would not be destroyed by the heat of reentry into Earth's atmosphere at 18,000 mph.

Kantrowitz said he thought he could solve the problem in six months. Using a so-called shock tube that released gas pulses to create temperatures of a million degrees, Kantrowitz determined that the best solution would be to coat the nose cones with a substance that would slowly ablate, or burn away, as the rocket plunged through the atmosphere.

The idea was vindicated by the retrieval of a charred nose cone from a test rocket, showing just the amount of burn-off that Kantrowitz predicted.

"The recovery of that nose cone," Kantrowitz said later, according to the New York Times, "gave the first really solid authentication of the shock tube work" he had done earlier.

Kantrowitz was born Oct. 20, 1913, in New York City, the son of Bernard, a doctor, and Rose Esserman Kantrowitz. He studied physics at Columbia University, which set him apart from his family tree, heavily laden with doctors. One of his brothers, Adrian, became a pioneering heart surgeon; he died Nov. 14.

"I was sort of a black sheep," Arthur Kantrowitz told the Boston Business Journal in 1997. He said he knew he wanted to be a physicist "even before I knew the word."

In 1935, he went to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. It was there, according to an account in the New York Times, that he and a colleague performed one of the earliest experiments in fusion power. They bombarded hydrogen with radio waves to heat the gas, while squeezing it with a magnetic field, in hopes of converting it to helium and releasing energy, as the sun does.

They failed.

"It was a heartbreaking experience," Kantrowitz told the New York Times. "I had just built a whole future around this; I wanted to make it a career."

Obtaining his doctorate from Columbia in 1947 for work he did under Edward Teller, known as the father of the hydrogen bomb, Kantrowitz began his teaching career at Cornell. He later left the university to found the Avco Everett Research Laboratory in Everett, Mass., where he did his shock tube work on nose cones.

He also developed high- energy lasers that he suggest- ed could be used to propel spacecraft into low-Earth orbit. It was at Avco that he became a champion of a potential new source of electricity known as magnetohydrodynamics, which generates energy by passing ionized gas through a magnetic field. Though possessing high efficiency ratings, the technology has never broken through to achieve widespread usage.

In the 1960s, Kantrowitz and other researchers designed the intra-aorta balloon pump. Inserted into an artery, it helps the heart move blood around the body. The device has been used on 3 million patients, including Kantrowitz himself after he suffered a heart attack Nov. 28, the day before he died, the New York Times said.

In 1978, Kantrowitz retired from Avco and joined the faculty at Dartmouth College. According to the university's School of Engineering, Kantrowitz held 21 patents, and served on government advisory boards in the Ford administration, the Department of Commerce, NASA, the General Accounting Office and the National Science Foundation.

His passion in the last decades of his life was the science court, which he hoped would be used to settle controversies over whether this or that technology, or substance, posed a hazard. He suggested that the court should operate like a court of law, in which opposing experts could present their cases to independent fact-finders.

"The notion that scientists don't have their own ideologies is an idealization of people who are not ideal," Kantrowitz explained to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Though he once served as chairman of a presidential task force investigating the idea, it never gained traction with the public.

Kantrowitz is survived by his second wife, Lee Stuart, and three children.

Kantrowitz's body was cremated. Most of his ashes will be scattered in the sea where, according to Dartmouth officials, he loved to be aboard his sailboat. The rest will be placed under a marker near his parents' grave on Long Island.

Arthur R. Kantrowitz

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