Antarctic explorer Martin A. Pomerantz announces major gift for Bartol at UD

Renowned South Pole explorer Martin A. Pomerantz today announced his gift of one-half million dollars to support a new faculty position for the Bartol Research Institute at the University of Delaware.

Endowed by his generous gift, the Martin A. Pomerantz Chair will recognize an outstanding faculty member in the field of physics and astronomy. Recommendations for the new position will be evaluated by the UD Board of Trustees later this year.

As head of Bartol from 1959 until 1986, Pomerantz, now director emeritus, was among the first to exploit Antarctica for astronomical and astrophysical observations, says current Bartol President Norman F. Ness.

"Dr. Pomerantz demonstrated remarkable foresight by establishing research facilities or laboratories in Antarctica, where observations of the sun are unimpeded by clouds or the setting sun, and the atmosphere features a window in the Earth’s magnetic shield," explains Ness, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a global authority on the magnetic fields in interplanetary space and around the planets. "He also showed tremendous courage, working in Antarctica when it was still a very hazardous proposition."

Pomerantz, who announced his gift during Bartol’s 75th anniversary conference, inspired others to look far beyond the Earth’s atmosphere for clues about the universe and its formation, Ness says. In particular, Pomerantz pioneered the study of the solar interior by using naturally occurring seismic signals, which arise from "sun quakes." Data collected from seismic monitoring stations of earthquake data on Earth are a well-proven tool for understanding the Earth’s structure.

Pomerantz "developed and operated instruments in Antarctica for observing similar sun-quake signals in the newly emerging field of helioseismology, a discipline in which he was one of the true pioneers," Ness says.

Since then, helioseismic studies have helped scientists discover different rates of rotation of the internal layers of the sun, influenced, in part, by strong magnetic fields. Those fields extend into space, beyond the sun, and affect cosmic ray motions, Ness explains.

Consequently, University President David P. Roselle says, Pomerantz set the stage for work by such highly regarded investigators as Bartol’s Thomas K. Gaisser and Todor Stanev, whose theoretical studies have changed the way scientists think about the elusive and difficult-to-detect cosmic particles named neutrinos.

"Dr. Pomerantz's early insights paved the way for many subsequent discoveries at UD and Bartol, and by scientists throughout the world. We are especially grateful that someone so important to the history of Bartol has elected to continue to maintain his longstanding relationship with us," Roselle says.

Even now, says Thomas M. DiLorenzo, dean of UD’s College of Arts and Science, "Scientific and programmatic contributions by Dr. Pomerantz continue to benefit promising student-scholars at UD."

New horizons, emerging from history

When prominent Philadelphia industrialist Henry W. Bartol prepared his will, bequeathing a research foundation to the Franklin Institute upon his death in 1918, he surely never imagined that Pomerantz would plant a National Geographic Flag on Antarctica in the late 1950s.

During his tenure with the Bartol Research Institute, Pomerantz established neutron monitoring stations near Antarctica’s McMurdo Sound and at the South Pole, as well as in Greenland and Newark, De. These detectors allow scientists to study highly energetic cosmic rays as they bombard Earth. His contributions to Antarctic research were recognized by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which designated part of the scientific base as "Pomerantz Land." More recently, the NSF further honored him with the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory, known to South Pole researchers as "MAPO."

Pomerantz strongly promoted cosmic ray physics at Bartol, as well as particle theory and cosmology. He also built on existing programs in nuclear physics and theoretical astrophysics, launched by the original Bartol Director, W.F.G. Swann, whose focus included studies of cosmic rays from mountain tops, airplanes, ships, underwater, unmanned balloons, and even several manned balloon flights.

Over the years, Bartol moved from its first home at Swarthmore College to Newark, and its primary affiliation shifted from the Franklin Institute to UD.

Expanding space science

In 1977, Bartol moved to the UD campus, to strengthen an existing program in astrophysics, and to work more closely with faculty and graduate students within the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Today, UD is one of the nation’s statewide, space-grant institutions, thanks to the initiative of Ness and his UD and Bartol colleagues.

Since 1987, Ness has built on the legacy of excellence established by Pomerantz and others to achieve a five-fold increase in the level of sponsored space science at Delaware. As a result, UD Provost Mel Schiavelli says, "Graduate students in UD’s physics and astronomy program are introduced to extraordinary learning opportunities, such as research trips to Antarctica."

Ness, a coinvestigator on the Mars Global Surveyor Project and the principal investigator on 18 prior space missions, has revealed new information about the environments and magnetic fields of Mars, Mercury, Earth, the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Other Bartol projects include the South Pole Air Shower Experiment (SPASE), headed by Gaisser. This detector allows scientists to study extremely high-energy particles, hurled into space by various events, such as the explosive collapse of dying stars or the volatile, twin-star systems known as binary stars. The SPASE experiment (jointly operated with the University of Leeds in Great Britain) supplements data gathered by the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA), which measures telltale flashes of light generated by neutrinos moving upward through the Earth.

Yet another Bartol project is the neutron monitor network, directed by Prof. John Bieber and Prof. Paul Evenson. Starting from a few stations established by Pomerantz, these researchers now are building a worldwide network of detectors to investigate the Sun/Earth environment from Earth, as part of a project known as "Spaceship Earth."

Understanding magnetic fields in space

Dozens of speakers at Bartol’s 75th anniversary conference this week are exploring the impact of magnetic fields on the sun, the galaxy, cosmic events and the protective bubble or heliosphere around our solar system.

Why focus on magnetic fields?

Emanating from our star, the sun, magnetic fields are carried into the solar system by the solar wind, a steady but sometimes gusty flow of plasma from the outer layers of the sun’s atmosphere, Ness points out. Magnetic fields also provide a protective cocoon-like structure around the Earth—the magnetosphere, which deflects high-energy cosmic rays that would otherwise deeply penetrate our atmosphere. And, Ness says, magnetic fields in the cosmos can energize charged particles such as protons and electrons to even higher energies, in a process known as Fermi acceleration (so-named for the famous Italian physicist who built the first nuclear reactor).

Presenters at the Bartol anniversary event will include, for instance, Eugene N. Parker of the University of Chicago—sometimes called the "father of solar wind theory"—as well as Lennard A. Fisk of the University of Michigan, former deputy administrator of space science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and many others.

Like Pomerantz, "the scientists attending this event truly are the elite of the elite," says Prof. Gary P. Zank of Bartol, a respected theoretical astrophysicist, perhaps best known for his simulations of potential cosmic cloud impacts on the heliosphere. "Through them, we should gain a wonderful sense of where we are now, and what we can expect from our explorations of future frontiers."