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C. B. Moore Awarded Honorary Doctorate

SOCORRO, N.M., May 20, 2003 -- Longtime atmospheric physics researcher Charles B. Moore was awarded an honorary Ph.D. at New Mexico Tech's commencement ceremonies on May 17.

Moore described himself as "amazed and surprised" at the honor, although many of his colleagues were less surprised. Pres. Daniel H. López summed up the prevailing opinion, saying "According to the resolution passed by the Board of Regents, this is an honorary doctorate, but in a real sense, this is not an honorary award at all. Charles B. Moore has been a leader in the field of atmospheric physics, and he has done research that would have earned him a Ph.D. many times over, had he consented to accept one before now."

Moore, professor emeritus of physics, is internationally known for his research on the electrical aspects of thunderstorms and volcanoes. He is an expert in many different areas of atmospheric research, including the scientific and political aspects of weather modification and the scientific and practical issues of lightning protection.

Moore took a long and circuitous route to the heights of his profession, managing to bypass a Ph.D. along the way, till now. During World War II, he was a Weather Equipment Officer for the U.S. Army Air Force in the China-Burma-India theater. After gaining experience as a weather observer in occupied China, Moore completed his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1947. He was then recruited for a project conducted for the U. S. Air Force by New York University, which involved the development of constant-level balloons.

"I was pleased to have the opportunity to go to graduate school at NYU," Moore recalls, "but unfortunately, the project needed extended field trips during the semester. That ended my graduate schooling."

The project involved launching balloons to carry microphones up to the base of the stratosphere, where the temperature of the atmosphere reaches a minimum and is highly effective at refracting sound waves. (Moore cites the example of Krakatoa, the volcano which exploded in 1883 and was heard seven times around the world, because its sound was refracted by the atmosphere.) At this time, 1947, the United States was concerned with listening for nuclear testing by other countries, especially the Soviet Union, so the microphone-bearing balloons were launched to listen for the sounds.

The experiment succeeded in detecting U.S. nuclear tests in the south Pacific, 6000 miles away, but it also added an important footnote to American cultural history. A balloon launched by Moore in June of 1947 later proved to be the item that is enshrined at Roswell as a "UFO." Moore didn't realize the part he had played in the drama until he happened to see a newspaper picture of the pieces of the "UFO" in the 1990s. \

Moore was considered a pioneer in the development and testing of modern plastic balloons as atmospheric research tools. In 1947, he made the first flight in a such a balloon, and in a later test, he made a 24-hour balloon flight from Minneapolis to New Jersey. In 1957, he made a record-breaking flight to the altitude of 82 thousand feet in a pressurized balloon gondola, with Commander Malcolm D. Ross. During this flight, he made the first measurements which discovered traces of water vapor in the atmosphere of Venus.

After he carried reconnaisance cameras to high altitude for the U.S. Air Force, a program to fly balloons carrying these cameras over the Soviet Union was established by General Mills, for whom Moore worked until 1953. He was then offered an opportunity to work for Arthur D. Little, a research company in Cambridge, Mass., again on a project involving research by balloon. While there, he designed and built the first alkaline-metal vaporizers used in rocket-borne ionospheric probes. Also at Little, Moore met and began his long collaboration with Dr. Bernard Vonnegut.

Vonnegut was well-known as the scientist who had discovered that silver iodide could be used for cloud seeding. In 1956, Moore and Vonnegut were invited to New Mexico by E. J. Workman, then president of New Mexico Tech, to conduct thunderstorm research at Mt. Withington. For three successive summers, Moore and Vonnegut hauled truckloads of equipment to and from Boston each year, until the fateful day in 1958 when Moore suggested that what they needed was a mountaintop lab where the equipment could be kept year round.

E. J. Workman and his colleague Marx Brook liked the idea, but instead of Mt. Withington, as Moore proposed, they decided to put their lab in the Magdalena Mountains, closer to Socorro and within line-of-sight to the campus. By 1964, their lab - Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research - was built and ready to put into operation. In 1965, Dr. Stirling Colgate, the new president of New Mexico Tech, offered jobs to both Moore and Vonnegut. The latter chose to stay at Arthur D. Little - and later moved to SUNY Albany - but Moore was delighted at the opportunity and came to Tech as an associate professor of physics and research physicist.

Photo, right: C. B. Moore with a balloon-borne bucket used to measure the electric charges carried by rain inside thunderclouds.

In 1969, he became the chairman of Langmuir Laboratory itself. During his time at the lab's helm, Moore greatly expanded its facilities. He obtained funding for and organized the construction of a large addition to the Main Building, a balloon hangar, an airplane hangar, and underground shielded rooms (Faraday cages) on South Baldy Peak for studying nearby lightning. He was also responsible for the construction of a vertically-scanning radar and for solving the political problems to allow the launching of instrumented rockets into thunderstorms over Langmuir Laboratory. In addition, he organized the modification and instrumentation of an airplane that has flown into thunderstorms for many years.

Moore also taught techniques of launching balloons in severe weather to a number of Tech faculty members and students, many of whom continued their work in the field. Thus, he was the mentor of many of today's scientists who study electrical properties of severe storms.

Moore nominally retired from New Mexico Tech in 1985, but since then, he has developed the first real improvement to the lightning rod since Benjamin Franklin invented it in the 18th Century. Franklin's lightning rods had pointed tips, but Moore hypothesized and proved that blunt-tipped rods were more effective. As a result of his work, most of the lightning rods manufactured in the United States today are blunt-tipped.

Currently, Moore is working with Dr. Ken Eack, a former student of his, and now an assistant professor of physics at New Mexico Tech. They are using X-rays to study how lightning bolt leaders propagate.

Moore is a fellow in three scientific societies: The Royal Meteorological Society, American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received New Mexico Tech's Distinguished Research Award in 1984 and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1997.

On receiving his Ph.D., Moore commented that he was delighted that the degree was from New Mexico Tech, where the scientific vitality is so intense. "This is a fine school to have a degree from," he concluded.


(Kathleen Hedges)

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