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Harry W. Fulbright (1918–2009)

Published onDec 01, 2011
Harry W. Fulbright (1918–2009)

Harry W. Fulbright, Emeritus Professor in Physics at the University of Rochester, died May 16, 2009 at the age of 90. His distinguished career spanned many disciplines. During WWII, he worked on the Manhattan Project at Washington University and at Los Alamos for two years, and spent 4 years on the Princeton University faculty before joining the faculty at Rochester in 1950. Fulbright retired July 1, 1989, having spent years at Rochester as an experimental physicist who among other things renovated a 26-inch cyclotron, turning it into the first variable energy cyclotron used. It became the center of the department's low energy nuclear experimentation until another faculty member installed a Van de Graaf which replaced it. That cyclotron was later shipped to India where Fulbright helped install it for its second career.

Although Fulbright concentrated on nuclear physics for most of his career, his interests turned to Astronomy in his later years. Fulbright spent the summer of 1986 helping to design and build equipment for a holographic determination of and improvement of the shape of the 140 ft. diameter Green Bank radio dish. He spent several weeks the next year at Green Bank, continuing the collaboration with Ron Maddalena and other staff members on the project, alternately making measurements and then panel adjustments. The result, according to observations made on standard sources, was a substantial improvement in antenna efficiency. The time required for an observation at 24 GHz was reduced by a factor of two or three. He participated in observations with that dish involving 12 GHz signals from geostationary communication satellites. Fulbright joined Bill Forrest and John Bally in VLA (B array) HI observations of regions near high velocity outflow star forming and evolved objects. Little, if any, HI emission was evident in these data.

As the director of the Advanced Undergraduate Lab in Physics and Astronomy, Fulbright included astronomical experiments in the complement he developed over the 11 year period before he retired. Among other experiments, he retrofitted an existing spectrograph with a thermoelectrically cooled 2048 element linear CCD to use at the University's C.E.K. Mees Observatory. A simple sliding shutter built into the slit structure of the spectrograph allowed automatic computer-controlled cyclic background subtraction. In addition, the students did all computer programming required for device control, for monitoring and recording of data, and for wavelength calibration. Preliminary tests were made with the collaboration of Dave Meisel, SUNY Geneseo, then Associate Director of Mees. Several student senior theses utilized this instrument. With other students, Fulbright built a sensitive low-noise 21-cm receiver and Dicke Switch for a computer controlled 8-foot dish antenna (used originally for satellite work), which he mounted on the roof of the Rochester Physics building. Undergraduate students over a several year period joined him in designing, constructing and improving the electronics for 21-cm observations. They were able to map the Milky Way until a new radar at the airport put them out of the faint object business. After that they followed the radio emission of the Sun during almost a full solar cycle. In 1988 he helped two other students built a small, two-dimensional CCD camera intended for use at Mees, incorporating a small TI 211, 192x 165 pixels element, a thermoelectric cooler, and a mechanical shutter, with operation and data acquisition under computer control. Following his retirement in 1989 he continued to work with the Advanced Lab students for several years.

Harry Fulbright was a brilliant and versatile experimentalist, and passed on these skills to the present generation. He is sorely missed by all in the Rochester Department of Physics and Astronomy.


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