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Madeleine Barnothy Forro (1904–1995)

Published onDec 01, 1995
Madeleine Barnothy Forro (1904–1995)

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives,
John Irwin Slide Collection

Madeleine Barnothy Forro, physicist and astrophysicist, a worldwide known pioneer of cosmic ray research, died in February 1995 in Evanston, Illinois. The rich scientific career of Madeleine Forro started in the late 1920s in the Institute for Experimental Physics of the Peter Pazmany (now Lorand Eötvös) University at Budapest, Hungary. She defended her Ph.D. dissertation on measurements of the dielectric constant in 1928. In the same year she and Jeno M. Barnothy became interested in the research on cosmic radiation using the coincidence technique recently developed by Bothe and Kohlhörster. The two young Hungarian physicists built large Geiger-Müller counters, ultimately designing one of the first cosmic-ray telescopes. They studied the isotropy of cosmic rays and their sidereal time periodicity as well as their energy spectrum up to extremely high ranges. They also explored the absorption of cosmic rays in the atmosphere and deep underground in the Dorog coal mine near Budapest. With a growing circle of students they started a rapidly growing cosmic-ray research group in Hungary.

Madeleine Forro and Jeno Barnothy were both faculty members at the University at Budapest and were married in 1938, becoming scientific colleagues for life. After the Second World War the Barnothys attempted to re-establish cosmic-ray research in Hungary but unfortunately could not gain the support of the ruling authorities. Therefore they left Hungary for the United States in 1948 where they first taught physics at Barat College, Lake Forest, Illinois, from 1948 to 1953, settling in Evanston, Illinois. Madeleine Barnothy Forro later was professor of physics at the University of Illinois Medical School at Chicago.

Once in America, the Bamothys' scientific interest shifted from cosmic rays to astrophysics. Their major achievement in this field was the study of gravitational lensing and its effect on quasars, which they discussed in about 40 scientific papers in the 1960s and 70s. They were among the first few researchers to promote the idea of gravitational lensing. In addition to her involvement in cosmic-ray physics and astrophysics, Madeleine Barnothy Forro and her husband became interested in biophysics, carrying out a number of interesting biophysical experiments. They founded the Biomagnetic Society.

Madeleine Barnothy Forro was active in both domestic and international professional organizations ranging from the American Astronomical Society and the American Physical Society, to the German Astronomical Society and the International Astronomical Union. The authors of this notice knew Madeleine since her years in Hungary when she was a young but already well-respected scientist. One of us (E.lF.) began his Ph.D. dissertation under the supervision of the Barnothys. We and all of her friends in Hungary and the U. S. remember her extremely kind, always helpful and understanding personality, warm humor and deep compassion for friends, colleagues and students. Hers is a memory we will cherish forever. We miss her deeply.

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