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Ben Hawkins Moore (1921–2003)

Published onDec 01, 2004
Ben Hawkins Moore (1921–2003)

Ben H. Moore, emeritus professor of physics, astronomy and earth sciences at St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, died 7 November 2003, in South Padre Island, Texas. Ben was born 18 March 1921, in Kansas City, Missouri, to Fraser D. and Cora R. (Hawkins) Moore. Though his parents provided a strong guiding influence on Ben's development, Ben's career was impacted most clearly by his work as a student and research assistant for Allen Basset (Ben's father-in-law) at Park College. This relationship turned Ben's early interest in chemistry and biology toward a focus on physics.

Ben received his undergraduate degree from Park College where he graduated Phi Delta Kappa. He received a MS in physics from Kansas State University. He also did post-masters work at the University of Kansas, the University of Colorado, the University of Washington and Temple University. In addition to his work as a research assistant, Ben taught at Park College as well as Washington Kansas High School, Wyandotte High School, and Kansas City Kansas Junior College before moving to St. Cloud State University in 1960. He retired from this teaching position in May 1982 but remained involved in activities of his department, including some teaching, through most of his years in retirement.

Ben's accomplishments were mainly centered on his teaching. His development of courses and his rapport with students consistently brought praise from both his colleagues and his students. Above all, his work involved innovative development of the curriculum in the sciences at St. Cloud State. Soon after his arrival at the university, Ben took over the fledgling field geology course and continued to shape this offering into a program in earth sciences. The popularity of his classes, which attracted both general students and a growing number of majors, finally enabled the university to establish an earth sciences department in the late 1960's and Ben was the first chair of that department. In the mid-1960's Ben took a leave to study oceanography at the University of Washington. Clearly this field of study is now seen as extremely important, but few institutions in the Midwest were prepared to offer even a single course in oceanography. Ben's idea was to make St. Cloud one of the rare universities with such an emphasis and also to apply the methodology of oceanographers to the study of the great lakes region.

By the end of the 1960's, geologists had become involved with exploration of lunar materials and St. Cloud State University became one of the locations for study of these materials under Ben's direction. This venture into space exploration led Ben back to physics and astronomy and his insights were incorporated into an expanded earth sciences program. He took time at Temple University to study the use of planetarium programs and he also studied at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. In the 1970's Ben managed the construction of a planetarium at St. Cloud State University making it one of the few such facilities in the upper Midwest. The addition of the planetarium allowed an immediate expansion of interest in astronomy among students and in the mid-1970's Ben became director of the planetarium program in addition to his other teaching and administrative responsibilities. By the time of his retirement, the astronomy major had become the largest offering in the science programs both in terms of majors and general students drawn to the courses.

While Ben's achievements were almost exclusively focused on the development of curricula and programs, he did continue to read extensively and contributed occasional articles and reviews to professional journals. In retirement, this activity continued even more vigorously as he was regularly invited to review manuscripts and write reviews of new materials. His most significant contribution might have been his outreach to the general community. He continued to direct programs at the planetarium after his retirement, especially those aimed at the public schools and the general public. These regularly scheduled programs provided a way for the university and for the science programs to achieve a level of prominence in the community and they opened vistas of wonder for budding scientists in the schools. After his experiences at the Adler Planetarium, he developed a particular presentation on the Star of Bethlehem that he gave not only in St. Cloud but also in Texas where he spent winters in the last few years. His program was designed to highlight the scientific questions that arise when one thinks about the possible explanations of such an event. On the other hand, the popular knowledge of, and interest in, this story became a vehicle for Ben to draw an even greater appreciation for the sciences from public audiences.

Ben married Alice Winifred Bassett in 1943 in Kansas City, Missouri; she died in 1971. A year later he married Marjorie Rotnem who survives him. He is also survived by three sons (John, James and Robert Moore), and one daughter (Donna Habermeyer) from his first marriage as well as Richard and Diane Rotnem from his second marriage; there are seven grandchildren. His devotion to his family was perhaps even more central to his life than his love for teaching and science. He is also survived by a host of friends, colleagues and students who hold him in the highest regard.

In the last few years of his life, Ben took on a project in thinking about the relation between science and religion, partly at my urging. His written comments on this topic are more than two hundred pages. Throughout his career he had fought for ways to be Christian and to be an authentic scientist. This meant, for him, a level of humility for both disciplines as well as clear and reasonable thinking. Among the many other things that Ben's life models for us is this life long passion to be both religious and rigorously scientific at the same time, finding no ultimate conflict in doing that. In my view, his influence on these significant questions remains a lasting legacy of his life's work.

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