Bracewell, Ronald N. 1921–2007

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Bracewell, Ronald N. 1921–2007

(Ronald Newbold Bracewell)


See index for CA sketch: Born July 22, 1921, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; died of a heart attack, July 12, 2007, in Stanford, CA. Mathematician, physicist, electrical engineer, radio-astronomer, educator, and author. Bracewell's research and inventions in the field of radio astronomy have had wide-ranging repercussions throughout the scientific world. His primary contribution was the "Fournier transform" process that enabled scientists to convert radio signals into visual images that could be printed and transmitted around the world. The process had varied applications, beginning with Bracewell's eleven-year project to monitor and map daily sunspot activity for an entire solar year. His research enabled scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to predict sunspot events that could have had a negative impact on the first U.S. moon landing in 1969. Bracewell was also able to monitor the path of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I and offer data that might have improved the design of the American Explorer I satellite, had his advice been heeded. Bracewell's research on radio signals led to the development of medical diagnostic procedures such as computed tomography (commonly known as CT or CAT scanning) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Bracewell was born in Australia, educated in Australia and England as a mathematician and physicist, and eventually spent most of his career in the electrical engineering department at Stanford University. He was also a director of the Sidney Sussex Foundation. Toward the end of his career, Bracewell became interested in the use of radio signals to explore the potential existence of extraterrestrial intelligence, and he was an active proponent of government support for the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence project, informally known as SETI. The phrase "Bracewell probe" was coined to describe the robotic devices he believed alien civilizations might use to communicate with the people of Earth. In 1974 Bracewell published the book The Galactic Club: Intelligent Life in Outer Space. His more conventional scientific writings include Radio Astronomy (1955) and The Fournier Transform and Its Applications (1965).



Los Angeles Times, August 17, 2007, p. B9.