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David B. Beard (1922–1998)

Published onDec 01, 2000
David B. Beard (1922–1998)

David Breed Beard, a member of the AAS since 1970, succumbed to pneumonia on January 21, 1998, in Portland, Maine, at the age of 75. A fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Geophysical Union, David Beard was chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Kansas from 1964 to 1977, retiring a decade later as University Distinguished Professor of Physics.

Following his graduation from Hamilton College (Clinton, New York), Dave began graduate study in physics at Caltech. A year later, the outbreak of World War II intervened. He used his physics education to assist with weapons design at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, working on interior ballistics. After his time at NRL, Beard resumed graduate studies at Cornell, working with Hans Bethe and receiving his PhD in 1951. Concurrently, he served as an instructor of physics at Catholic University of America (1950-1951) and then taught at the University of Connecticut (1951-1953). A notoriously gregarious person, David made scores of friends there as well as at other institutions where he spent short stints, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory (1951-1952), the University of California, Davis (1953-1956), Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at Livermore (1954-1957), and Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (1956-1958). He returned to UC Davis as professor in 1959 and moved on from there to the University of Kansas in 1964. He was also a frequent visitor at Goddard Space Flight Center and at Imperial College, London.

Beard became particularly interested in space physics while consulting at Lockheed. He did pioneering work on the shapes and structures of planetary magnetospheres, Jovian radio emission, and comets. Working together with Gilbert Mead, he was among the first to publish a calculation of the shape of the Earth's magnetopause (in the Journal of Geophysical Research in 1964). Other contributions were focused on the Earth's magnetotail, Jupiter's magnetopause boundary, and the shape of Mercury's magnetosphere. Beard and his students contributed to solar system astronomy with early calculations of the intensity, spatial distribution, and polarization of Jupiter's decimetrical radiation, inferred from models of synchrotron radiation by trapped relativistic electrons. He was also one of the first to examine effects of the plasma environment on artificial satellites by calculating collection of charge.

Beard continued with a career-long inquiry into how comets and interplanetary dust are affected by the solar wind, including the structure of the coma, non-gravitational effects arising from evaporation-reaction forces, and an explanation for Type II tail rays. Although computers became available during his career, David much preferred to wring the maximum out of the algebraic approaches to a problem before resorting to numerical modeling. He did not shrink, however, from the most daunting challenges, especially the solution of magnetospheric boundary problems. His bibliography includes two books and some 80 publications in refereed journals on a wide variety of subjects.

Beard received a number of academic honors. He was a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow during the same year (1965-1966) at Imperial College, London. He returned as a NATO Senior Fellow in 1972 to the Blackett Laboratory, where Jim Dungey and other colleagues named a room after him. In 1977, Beard was named University Distinguished Professor of Physics, a position he held until his 1987 retirement.

Barely one year after moving to his retirement property on Peaks Island, Maine, he suffered a severe stroke. Determined to disprove an initially unfavorable prognosis, he regained conversational ability and learned to walk with a cane and brace and was back home and on the road to recovery, when, in winter 1990, he fell and broke his cane arm. Sadly, Dave's ambitions for continued pursuit of scholarship and a second career as a novelist could not be fulfilled.

Professional colleagues gathered to honor him and his scientific contributions at a memorial symposium sponsored jointly by the SPA-Magnetospheric Physics and SPA-Solar and Heliospheric subsections of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco in December 1999. The symposium comprised 30 papers with a broadly international list of participating authors, with many of the speakers and chairpersons inserting short anecdotes about Dave as they had known him. Physicist George B. Beard, one of three surviving brothers who attended the symposium, delivered a short "exposé" on Dave's exploits as a lad and student. He would have loved it all, and we are privileged to have known him and will miss him very much.

Photo courtesy of the University of Kansas Archives

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