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Edward Ryant Dyer, Jr. (1918–1999)

Published onJan 01, 2002
Edward Ryant Dyer, Jr. (1918–1999)

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives,
John Irwin Slide Collection

Edward Ryant ‘‘Ned’’ Dyer, Jr. was the son of Rev. Edward Ryant Dyer, an Episcopal missionary and clergyman. His mother, Dr. Ann (nèe Humphreys) Dyer, studied medicine and obtained a medical degree. She met his father when they both were missionaries in China in 1913. Ned was born in Wuxi, China, on 1 February 1918 and was raised there for the first ten years of his life. As a child, Dyer developed an interest in astronomy from books in his father’s library, especially those by James Jeans and Arthur Eddington. He attended preparatory schools in the United States, and eventually entered the University of Virginia in the 1930s, receiving a Bachelor’s degree that combined astronomy, physics and mathematics in 1938. After graduation Dyer continued in astronomy at Vanderbilt University, receiving a Master’s degree in 1940. He studied physics for another year but then was called to active military service in 1941, having trained in the Marine Corps Reserves. During the war Dyer worked mainly in the Washington offices of the Marine Corps and as a flight instructor at Pensacola. He was in the Philippines in August 1945 and was then transferred to duty in Peking, China where he served as the Marine Corps Provost Marshall for the area.

Dyer wanted to return to astronomy and did so when A. N. Vyssotsky offered him an acting assistant professorship at Virginia to allow him to complete his graduate degree. Dyer re-entered graduate school in 1946 and obtained his PhD in 1948, working on stellar population problems by studying the distribution of red giants. That work earned him a Carnegie postdoctoral fellowship at Mount Wilson, where he worked with Walter Baade. His assignment from Baade was to collect radial velocities of red stars, data which he brought back to Virginia when he received a permanent faculty appointment. In the mid-1950s, Dyer’s wife, Jo Ann (nèe Severance) Dyer, campaigned to move to Washington, D.C. where she sought better career opportunities. Dyer accepted an appointment at Georgetown University in 1957. He taught practical astronomy and celestial mechanics there, mainly, as he recalls in an oral history, to local military personnel who desperately sought out training in the wake of Sputnik. Father Hayden at Georgetown had obtained a large military contract for geodesy work; Dyer was hired to meet the increased teaching load associated with that contract.

The proximity of the National Academy of Science (NAS) and men like Hugh Odishaw and Ross Peavey proved to be an attraction for Dyer. He moved to the NAS in a staff position in January 1959 just as the new Space Science Board was forming. Dyer had prior contact with Board work, since he had been invited to be on its working group for geodesy; he became the secretary of that group. The working atmosphere of his new office appealed to Dyer, though it soon turned into ‘‘quite a bureaucracy.’’ Dyer experienced the heady first year or two of the Board’s life when it felt empowered to act as clearinghouse for space science research in the United States. That atmosphere prevailed until the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) moved into a position of dominance under James Webb.

In the early 1960s, Dyer served in a group of NAS staffers who acted as liaisons between the Space Science Board and various advisory committees of the NASA. ‘‘Here comes the spy’’ his NASA Headquarters counterparts would quip. Dyer acted as liaison for astronomy, and recalled others like Herb Friedman as strong allies. He felt that NASA generally heeded the Board’s suggestions but was also keenly aware that for men like Webb, ‘‘science was going to take a back seat’’ at NASA ‘‘and not to worry about it.’’ Dyer also felt that the leaders of the Space Science Board, especially Lloyd Berkner, were generally adept at finding ways to keep science alive under these conditions. Berkner, especially, ‘‘was a politically skilled organizer of scientific enterprises.’’ Berkner maintained a close relationship with Webb that made it easier for people like Dyer to get their views aired, and their jobs done successfully.

Dyer’s continuing duties with the Space Science Board included acting as liaison to the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), which brought him into contact with the State Department. He remained on the Board staff until 1968. After that period Dyer moved into the area of solarterrestrial physics through his contacts with various organizations such as the U.S. National Committee for the IAU.

Dyer remained with the National Academy until his retirement in 1983 working in numerous capacities. He acted as Executive Secretary of the U.S. International Year of the Quiet Sun (IQSY) and maintained important liaison duties with the President’s Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), NASA, National Science Foundation, and other private and federal organizations. He was the NAS Secretariat representative on the NASAAstronomy Steering Committee and also the Scientific Editor of NAS annual report to COSPAR. Other duties included staff officer for the Geophysics Research Board’s Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Research and its panels on the International Magnetosphere Study and Middle Atmosphere Program. Dyer was also the secretary of the Panel on World Data Centers of the International Council of Scientific Unions. He retired from the NAS in April 1983 and died 12 October 1999. His wife Jo Ann and daughters Barbara and Virginia Dyer survive him.

The primary source of biographical data for this obituary was an oral history interview taken on 4 August 1988 and archived at the National Air and Space Museum. The interview focused on the Iowa 1962 summer study, and so was weak in other areas. Supplemental information was kindly gathered from NAS sources by Janice Goldblum, NAS Archivist, and from an obituary notice by Joe H. Allen in the International SCOSTEP Newsletter, Volume 2. Number 4, December 1999. Unfortunately, the AAS was unable to contact the Dyer family.

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