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Georgeanne Caughlan (1916–1994)

Published onDec 01, 1998
Georgeanne Caughlan (1916–1994)

Georgeanne Caughlan, Professor of Physics Emerita at Montana State University, Bozeman, died January 3, 1994, at the age of 77.

Jan, as she was known to her co-workers, friends, and relatives, was born in Montesano, Washington, the fourth of five children. She attended the University of Washington and obtained a BS in physics in 1937. Her academic career was then put on hold by marriage and the raising of her own five children. When her family was old enough, she returned to graduate school at UW and received a PhD in physics in 1964.

Jan’s dissertation, “On Certain Aspects of Hydrogen and Helium Burning in Stars,” set the stage for much of the research she was to do in the future. She joined the faculty at Montana State as an instructor in 1957, at the same time she began her graduate studies, 20 years after her BS. She was a research fellow at the California Institute of Technology each summer 1961-1963, where she worked with William A. Fowler on the problem of energy generation in stars. She was appointed Assistant Professor of Physics at MSU in 1961, Associate Professor in 1968, and Professor in 1974. She also served as Acting Dean of the Graduate College and Interim Acting Vice-President for Academic Affairs. She was named Professor Emerita upon retirement in 1984.

Of the more than two dozen paper Jan published, “Theromonuclear Reaction Rates” (Fowler, Caughlan, and Zimmerman or FCZ) and its four successors best typify her contribution to the subject of stellar energy generation. Research for the first FCZ began in the early 1960’s. Computer technology had advanced to the point where theoretical calculations of stellar structure and evolution could contain more complete energy generation routines. This required the study of available data on the cross sections of nuclear interactions of neutrons, protons, and alpha particles with a number of light and intermediate-mass nuclei. The early 60’s was also a time before workstations and email that we have all come to rely on. Jan Caughlan’s job was to study the experimental data on the reactions important for stars. The results were transmitted to Caltech in the form of many, very long, handwritten letters to Fowler. These were quite detailed and reflected the meticulous nature of her research. Fowler has written what a great reader Jan was, and the work on thermonuclear reaction rates directly benefitted from this trait. It is a further tribute that Fowler expressed his indebtedness to Jan for her role in the theoretical part of studies of the reactions important to nucleosynthesis, for which he received his 1983 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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