Berkner, Lloyd Viel

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(b Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1 February 1905; d. Washington, D.C., 4 June 1967

science administration, geophysics, radio engineering.

Berkner was the son of Henry Frank Berkner and Alma Julia Viel Berkner. He and his two brothers grew up in the rural towns of Perth, North Dakota, and Sleepy Eye, Minnesota. Like many boys of his time, he was fascinated by radio, aviation, and polar exploration. He achieved distinction in all three activities, although he is remembered most for his administration of scientific and technical activities.

After graduating from high school, Berkner enrolled in a radio operators’school and then spent a year as a shipboard radio operator. He enrolled in the University of Minnesota in 1923. While there he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve and was commissioned as an ensign aviator in 1927, the same year he received a B.S. in electrical engineering, his only earned degree. He married Lillian Frances Fulks in 1928; they had two daughters. His health was good until his later years, when a heart condition caused his early retirement and, subsequently, his death.

Berkner worked briefly for the U.S. Bureau of Lighthouses installing radio navigation equipment, and then joined the U.S. National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C., in 1928. Soon, however, he became one of the radio operators on Richard F. Byrd’s first antarctic expedition (1928–1930). A severe cutback in 1933 caused the Radio Section of the Bureau of Standards to release many of its employees, including Berkner. During his live years with the bureau. Berkner published several papers. The best known are a collaborative note published in 1933 and a paper published in 1934 that both first revealed the existence of the F1 region of ionization in the ionosphere. These works soon led to his involvement in a priority dispute with Edward V. Appleton, whose own work on radio signals and the upper atmosphere led to a Nobel Prize in physics in 1947. E. O. Hulburt publicly argued for the Bureau of Standards team.

From the bureau, Berkner moved to the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. There he modified and extended the work of T. R. Gilliland, who had built the first automatic multifrequencyionospheric sounder, basically a vertically directed radar that measured electron density as a function of height. Berkner constructed an improved model operating over a frequency range from about 0.5 to 15 megahertz. This type of sounder remained the major ionospheric research instrument for more than thirty years. During the next several years Berkner installed these sounders in Washington. D.C.; at Huancayo, Peru (near the geomagnetic equator); and at Watheroo, in the state of Western Australia. He did important observational work at all three sites.

In 1938 Berkner was coauthor of two papers arguing for the inclusion of the Lorentz polarization term in the magneto-ionic theory applied to the ionosphere. Through this work Berkner entered— on the losing side—a debate that had begun about 1929 and continued until 1943. In 1940 the military asked the Carnegie Institution to establish a full ionospheric and geophysical station at the Agricultural College near Fairbanks, Alaska; Berkner set up the station. Thus, with the entrance of the United States into World War II, most of the Allies’ radio-propagation data were coming from stations established by Berkner and the Carnegie. Just before the war Berkner assisted Merle A. Tuve in early work on the radar proximity fuse.

Berkner’s organizational ability was revealed during World War II in his work in naval aviation electronics as head of the Radar Section (1941–1943) and as director of electronic material for the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics i 1943–1945). This entailed the supervision of the introduction of several important and sometimes revolutionary techniques and equipment into U.S. Navy aviation and fleet operations: very-high-frequency radio, airborne radar, aircraft electronic identification, and electronic navigation and bombing. During more than forty years in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Berkner served nearly twelve years on active duty and rose from second-class seaman to rear admiral and senior officer. In 1946 Vannevar Bush appointed Berkner first executive secretary of the Joint Research and Development Board (now the Office of Research and Engineering) of the Defense Department. He subsequently was involved in the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a Stale Department consultant and chaired the com mittee that established the posts of science attachés at U.S. missions abroad. In 1951 Berkner became president of Associated Universities; his duties included management of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, of which he remained director until 1960. In 1954 he began organizing the National Radio Astronomical Observatory of Green Bank, West Virginia, and in 1959 he chose Otto Struveas director of the observatory.

Berkner served on the President’s Science Advisory Committee from 1956 to 1959. During this lime he organized and led the Panel on Seismic Improvement, which studied the problem of detecting underground nuclear tests and led to the organization of Project Vela: the monitoring of nuclear tests to determine their effects on land, air, and space. He assisted in drafting the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which has been widely studied and is often cited as a precedent in international environment and space issues. It can be said that Berkner was among the most powerful technical advisers during the Eisen hower years. At the end of the Eisenhower admin istration, he moved to Dallas, Texas, to become first president of the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest, which later was incorporated into the University of Texas system. He served from 1960 until a heart attack forced his retirement in 1965.

His experience in Antarctica and his lifelong concern with ionospheric and upper atmospheric physics led Berkner to propose a third International Polar Year for 1957–1958. It was modeled on the first (1882–1883) and second (1932–1933) International Polar Years, but it greatly expanded upon them. He proposed the idea in early 1950 at the home of James Van Allen, in the presence of Van Allen. Sydnev Chapman, and other geophysicists. It was endorsed by the International Union of Radio Science (URSI) and by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). which established the Special Com mittee for the International Geophysical Year (IGY), with Chapman as president and Berkner as vice president. The idea for a third International Polar Year broadened into a world program for the International Geophysical Year of eighteen months, to occur during the period of maximum sunspot activity, from 1957 to 1958. (Later, IGY was extended to the end of 1959.) This gigantic geoscientific program with over thirty-thousand participants was the most extensive in history and involved Berkner in national and international planning meetings from 1950 through 1958, during almost the entire period when he directed Associated Universities. The largest single element of the U.S. IGY program, in terms of cost, was the rocket and satellite portion. (Indeed, the United States entered the space age through the IGY.) Thenext largest program was the ionospheric portion. Significant programs also were established in meteorology, geomagnetism, oceanography, solar physics, seismology, gravitation and geodesy, cosmic rays, aurora, and airglow. Berkner directly supervised the rocket and satellite program. He organized the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences, was its chairman from 1958 to 1962, and worked in the planning of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Berkner received many honorary degrees and awards, and was a member of several scientific organizations. The honorary degrees followed his work in the IGY and his presidency of the American Geophysical Union, the Institute of Radio Engineers, URSI, and ICSU. He was also a member and treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences.


I. Original Works. The Berkner papers are deposited in the manuscript collection of the Library of Congress in Washington. D.C. Berkner was coeditor of two books: Manual on Rockets and Satellite, Annals of IGY, VI (London, New York, and Oxford, 1958), with Gilman Reid, John Hanessian. Jr., and Leonard Cormier: and Science in Space (New York, 1961), with Hugh Odishaw. He also wrote The Scientific Age (New Haven, 1964).

His most important scientific and engineering papers were published between 1928 and 1941. They concern the ionosphere, radio-wave propagation, and the construction and operation of ionospheric equipment. Some of the most significant of them are “Radio Observations of the Bureau of Standards During the Solar Eclipse of August 31, 1932,” in Journal of Research. National Bureau of Standards, 11 (1929), 829–845, written with S. S. Kirby. T. R. Gilliland, and K. A. Norton: “Studies of the lonosphere and Their Application to Radio Transmission.” in Proceedings, Institute at Radio Engineers, 22 (1934). 481–521. written with S. S. Kirby and D. M. Stuart: “Constitution of the Ionosphere and the Lorentz Polarization Correction,” in Nature, 141 (1938), 562–563, written with H. G. Booker: and “A Fundamental Problem Concerning the Lorentz Correction to the Theory of Refraction,” in Science. 87 (1938). 257–258, written with H. G. Booker. Some of Berkner’s papers are abstracted in Laurence A. Manning, bibiliography of the Ionosphere: An Annotated Survey Through 1960 (Stanford, Calif. 1962). Most of Berkners papers written after World War II concern broader questions of science planning and organization and involve the editing of collective efforts.

II. Secondary Literature. An obituary appeared in the New York Times (5 June 1967), 43. For addilional biographical information on Berkner. see Current Biography 1949 (New York), 41–43: and Waltei Sullivan. “Profile of Lloyd V. Berkner,” in ICSU Review, 3 (1961), 208–211.

C. Stewart Gillmor

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