FW: ANB - Bio of the Day: J.C. Street, physicist [Alabama native]
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From: ANB Biography of the Day [mailto:biod-request@...]
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Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day
American National Biography Online
Street, J. C. (6 May 1906-7 Nov. 1989), physicist, was born
Jabez Curry Street in Opelika, Alabama, the son of Jabez Curry
Street and Anne Dunklin. Little is known about Street's youth.
He completed his B.S. degree in electrical engineering at Alabama
Polytechnique Institute, Auburn, in 1927. Following his graduation,
he worked briefly as an electrical engineer with Brooklyn Edison
Power Company before returning to graduate school. He finished
his doctorate in physics at the University of Virginia in 1931,
having received his master's degree the year before. Following
graduation Street was a fellow at the Bartol Research Foundation
until 1932, when he accepted a position as an instructor in physics
at Harvard University. In 1934 he was promoted to assistant professor.
At Harvard, as he had done at Bartol, Street studied the mysterious
cosmic rays that penetrated through the earth's crust and into
its depths. In 1933 he was a member of the Carnegie cosmic ray
expedition to Peru, and the following year he was a Carnegie
Foundation grantee. In 1933 he noted that the distribution of
cosmic rays varied from west to east, being higher in the east.
He assumed that the particles were diverted by the earth's magnetic
field according to their charges, and thus calculated that there
must be more positive than negative particles in the primary
cosmic rays. In 1937, along with E. C. Stevenson, Street published
results proving the discovery and first measurement of the mass
of the muon, identifying a fundamental particle which had baffled
scientists for years.
For much of the 1930s scientists searched for the identity of
the particles reaching the earth in cosmic rays. The muons were
also identified by Carl D. Anderson and S. H. Neddermeyer at
the California Institute of Technology. Street believed at the
time of their discovery that the muons were actually produced
by other particles that reacted or decayed upon interaction with
the earth's atmosphere, a view generally thought to be correct.
Originally named mesotrons, they were renamed muons when it was
discovered in 1947 that they were actually formed through decay
of pions in the atmosphere rather than being the primary particles.
In 1938 Street was made associate professor. The following year
he married Leila Fripp Tison, with whom he had two children.
During World War II, from 1940 to 1945, Street was a research
associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT),
heading a group developing radar systems for both ground and
ship facilities. He also was in charge of the production of the
first Loran Navigation System, routinely used for ships and planes.
In 1944 he sat on the National Defense Research Committee and
served as associate director of the British Radiation Laboratory
in England. For his work developing radar systems, Street received
a citation from the U.S. government in 1946.
In conjunction with MIT, Harvard, and the Cambridge Electron
Accelerator, Street continued studying cosmic rays following
the war, attaining full professor status at Harvard in 1947.
From 1949 to 1953 he served on the Active Radar panel research
and development board of the U.S. Air Force, and on the science
advisory board of the air force from 1951 to 1956. At Brookhaven
National Laboratory on Long Island, Street was a member of the
visiting committee (1950-1953) and studied beams produced by
the proton synchroton, which accelerated particles to energies
approaching those of cosmic rays. He served on the physics committee
at Brookhaven in 1954 and was chairman of the technological advances
committee at Lincoln Lab the same year. At Harvard he wore many
hats over his career, chairing the physics department from 1955
to 1960, directing the Cambridge Electron Accelerator from 1962
to 1963, and serving as assistant to the dean of the faculty
of sciences from 1966 until 1972. Street was the Mallinckrodt
Professor of Physics from 1968 to 1976 and an emeritus faculty
member from 1976 to 1989. Following his retirement in 1976 he
moved to South Carolina.
Street coauthored a textbook titled Physics in 1952, along with
numerous scientific and review articles. He was elected to membership
in both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy
of Sciences, was a fellow of the American Physical Society, and
was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1962. During his long career Street
was most interested in the study of cosmic rays and developed
a number of devices to improve research in high-energy physics,
among them a coincidence detector to remove counting noise from
muons to permit detection of other particles. He was also responsible
for the instigation of a giant particle detector placed approximately
2,000 feet below ground at the edge of Lake Erie. Beginning his
studies in the early 1930s, Street entered the field at its exciting
inception and maintained his interest in cosmic rays throughout
his lifetime. He died in Charleston, South Carolina.
Street's collected papers, 1946-1973, are held by the Harry
Elkins Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University. Sources
for information about his professional activities can be found
in Who Was Who in America (1989). A lengthy obituary is in the
New York Times, 9 Nov. 1989. He is also featured in The Annual
Obituary 1989, ed. Deborah Andrews (1990).
Joanna B. Downer
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Joanna B. Downer. "Street, J. C.";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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