Ney, Edward Purdy, 1920-....

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Edward Purdy Ney was born in Minneapolis in 1920. He earned his bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Minnesota in 1942. During his graduate studies he worked with the Naval Research Laboratory in analysis of uranium isotopes for the Manhattan Project. After earning his Ph. D. at the University of Virginia, he joined their faculty before returning to the University of Minnesota as an assistant professor. Ney's research included work on cosmic rays, astronomy, and solar physics, and much of his work was supported by grants from NASA. Along with his significant research work, Ney was highly esteemed as a teacher. He retired from the University in 1990, but continued his research work until his death in 1996.

From the description of Edward Purdy Ney Papers, 1941-1996. (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis). WorldCat record id: 62693193

Edward Purdy Ney (1920-1996). Physicist. Education: University of Minnesota, B.S., 1942; University of Virginia, Ph.D. (physics), 1946. Professional experience: University of Virginia, Research Associate (1943-46), Professor of physics (1946-74), Chair of Astronomy Department (1974-78); Univesrity of Minnesota, Professor of physics and astronomy (1974-); Naval Research Laboratory, Consultant (1974-). Research interests: mass spectroscopy, cosmic rays, atmospheric physics, and infrared astronomy.

From the description of Oral History interview with Edward P. Ney, 1984 February 29. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154305679

Edward Purdy Ney was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 28, 1920, and grew up in Waukon, a small town in northeastern Iowa. During his high school years he developed an intense interest in science and encountered a less-than-encouraging principal who predicted, "Nobody who ever graduated from this school has ever done anything in science, and neither will you." Ed Ney spent most of the next six decades proving the principal wrong.

Ney chose the University of Minnesota for his undergraduate education, and there physics professor Alfred Nier hired him as a laboratory assistant. After Nier's successful isolation of U235 in the spring of 1940, Ney worked with Nier designing and building additional mass spectrometers for uranium processing.

Ney graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1942 and began a graduate program at the University of Virginia working with Professor Jesse Beams and the Naval Research Laboratory in analysis of uranium isotopes for the Manhattan Project. Upon receiving a Ph. D. in physics in 1946, Ney joined the Virginia faculty and began research with cosmic rays. He once remarked that he switched from mass spectrometry because "I knew I couldn't compete with Al Nier."

Ney's work with cosmic rays attracted the notice of the University of Minnesota's nationally-prominent physicist John Tate, who was about to embark on a cosmic ray program using Jean Piccard's plastic balloons. In 1947 Tate hired Ney as an assistant professor along with two other Manhattan Project scientists-Ed Lofgren and Frank Oppenheimer. Ney spent the remainder of his career at Minnesota advancing to associate professor in 1950 and professor in 1953 and to the honor of Regents' Professor in 1974.

During the course of the cosmic ray research, an experiment conducted on April 21, 1948, provided the data for Ney's graduate student Phyllis Freier 's seminal conclusion that cosmic rays from outer space included the nuclei of heavy elements. During the 1950's Ney, together with Minnesota professors John Winckler and Charles Critchfield, organized the Minnesota Balloon Project, which at one time operated on a million-dollar budget financed by U. S. Army, Navy, and Air Force contracts. The military was interested in using balloons for surveillance work during the Cold War.

The solar flares Ney observed in balloon research led him to an interest in coronal light, work which he initially shared with colleague Paul Kellogg. In October, 1959, he traveled to what was then French West Africa to study an eclipse of the sun. During the early 1960' Ney's interests began to gravitate more toward astronomy and solar physics. In 1960 he shared a National Aeronautics and Space Administration grant with Winckler to study cosmic rays and solar terrestrial phenomenon. In June of 1960, he traveled to the Bolivian Andes to study zodiacal light at Chacataya; and later that year he spent a leave from Minnesota working with J. Blamont at the Maudon Observatory in Paris. Further study of zodiacal light brought him to Mexico in February, 1962, during another solar eclipse.

Ney took a sabbatical leave during the 1962-1963 academic year, supported by a National Science Foundation Senior Postdoctoral Fellowship. He traveled with his wife and four children to Australia to "…get my merit badge in astronomy." He worked with Hanbury Brown and Richard Twiss on the intensity interperometer under construction at Narrabri, New South Wales. The project was affiliated with the Chatterton Astronomy Department of the University of Sydney.

Upon his return to the U. S. in the early summer of 1963, Ney observed another total solar eclipse in Maine and eastern Canada. Inspired by students Fred Gilbert and Wayne Stein he became intrigued with the new field of infrared astronomy. Support from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and a local philanthropic family led to the University establishing the O'Brien Observatory at Marine on St. Croix in 1967. The facility featured a thirty-inch infrared telescope designed by Ney. The University of Minnesota, together with the University of California, San Diego, also built a sixty-inch telescope at Mount Lemmon near Tucson, Arizona. In using the infrared technology Ney and his associates discovered that comets and aging stars contain the same silicates and carbon grains that are basic to terrestrial planets.

Ney's continued interest in the solar corona and zodiacal light led to a number of NASA projects during the mid-1960's, including the design of cameras and polarimeters used on Mercury and Gemini flights and on two unmanned Orbiting Solar Observatory spacecraft. In 1963 Ney trained and briefed astronaut Gordon Cooper in the use of a special camera designed by U. of M. research associate William Huch. The photography was part of S-1, the first scientific experiment conducted on a manned space flight. In 1966 Ney worked with Eugene Cernan and Thomas Stafford to collect data on airglow and to photograph a solar eclipse. In 1969 NASA recognized Ney's pioneering work and granted him the Apollo Achievement Award.

Back on earth Ney continued to study eclipses and comets, including a total eclipse of the sun viewed from Bow Bells, North Dakota, and the visit of Comet Halley in 1986. Ney was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1971 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1979. In 1975 he won NASA's Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal.

Ed Ney suffered a serious heart attack in 1982, followed by open heart surgery on November 28 of that year, an experience which left him with ventricular tachycardia for the remainder of his life. Always eager for new learning experiences and innovative approaches to problems, Ney applied his knowledge of physics to the study of his own illness and his heart's electrical system.

Ney's illness slowed his pace for a few years, but he returned to the research scene pursuing an interest in the radon gas produced by the radioactive decay of uranium in the earth. As in many of his earlier experiments he often invented his own equipment and invested his own money when grant attempts failed. He even kept meticulous records of rain water samples collected in his own basement.

In addition to his vigorous research emphasis, Ed Ney never lost his focus as a teacher. In 1964 he won the University's Outstanding Teacher Award. He relished teaching introductory courses and used his unusual talents to challenge intellectual curiosity. He saved many examples of his students' papers and often took Polaroid photographs in class. His quirky, eccentric manner challenged the conventional wisdom in both his professional and personal lives. He often dressed in red, hightop tennis shoes and sported a calculator on his belt. He loved his work, and everyone knew it. He was propelled by an insatiable curiosity which even led to such antics as trying to see how fast he could drive his 1963 Jaguar before the state troopers intervened. Many of his exploits are remembered in his clever poems and limericks.

Throughout his career Ney was active in several professional organizations and served on a number of scientific committees. In 1955 he participated in a U. S. Air Force Study Group on Biological Aspects of Cosmic Radiation. In 1959 he chaired a National Research Council, Space Sciences Board, subcommittee on nuclear emulsions and through 1964 participated in other board committees. He worked as a consultant to NASA's Planetary and Interplanetary Subcommittee during 1960-1961. In October, 1975, he was appointed to the National Science Foundation's Visiting Committee, Astronomy Section. From 1976 to 1978 he served on the editorial board of Science magazine, and from 1976 to 1979 he was a member of the Council of the American Astronomical Society. He served on NASA's Balloon Committee during the 1970's and on the National Academy of Sciences, NRC, Space Sciences Board from l979 to 1982. At the University of Minnesota he served on the University Senate from 1982 to 1985, a time of intense discussion of tenure and salary issues.

Ed Ney retired from the University in 1990, but he didn't retire from research. He continued his radon experiments, at times collaborating with Richard Lively of the Minnesota Geological Survey. In 1992 he received the University of Minnesota Outstanding Achievement Award. Ed Ney's long battle with heart disease ended with his death on July 9, 1996. His unwavering intellectual curiosity and his thorough and innovative methodology led him from collecting U235 for Al Nier to chasing balloons in an old convertible to directing astronauts in space photography to collecting rain samples in his own basement. It was a long and rewarding journey.

From the guide to the Edward Purdy Ney Papers, 1941-1996, (University of Minnesota Libraries. University of Minnesota Archives [uarc])

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn American Astronomical Society. Historical Astronomy Division. Addition to records: obituary files, 1995-1998. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Phyllis St. Cyr Freier Papers, 1948-1990. University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn Department of Physics papers, 1886-1972 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn Freier, Phyllis St. Cyr, 1921-1992. Phyllis St. Cyr Freier papers, 1948-1990. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
referencedIn Nier, Alfred O. (Alfred Otto), 1911-1994. Alfred O.C. Nier papers, 1930-1996. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
creatorOf Ney, Edward Purdy, 1920-. Oral History interview with Edward P. Ney, 1984 February 29. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Edward Purdy Ney Papers, 1941-1996 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
referencedIn National Air and Space Museum. Dept. of Space History. The Space Astronomy Oral History Project, 1981-1986. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Alfred O.C. Nier papers, 1930-1996 University of Minnesota Libraries. University Archives [uarc]
creatorOf Ney, Edward Purdy, 1920-. Edward Purdy Ney Papers, 1941-1996. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American Astronomical Society. corporateBody
associatedWith American Astronomical Society. Historical Astronomy Division. corporateBody
associatedWith Apollo 8 (Spacecraft) corporateBody
associatedWith Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy. corporateBody
associatedWith Blamont, Jean person
associatedWith Blamont, Jean. person
associatedWith Brown, R. Hanbury (Robert Hanbury) person
associatedWith Cernan, Eugene. person
associatedWith Cooper, Gordon, 1927-2004. person
associatedWith Critchfield, Charles Louis, 1910- person
associatedWith DeVorkin, David H., 1944- person
associatedWith Freier, Phyllis St. Cyr, 1921-1992. person
associatedWith Gehry, Robert person
associatedWith Gehry, Robert. person
associatedWith General Mills, inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Huch, William. person
associatedWith Lively, R. S. person
associatedWith Maas, Ray person
associatedWith Maas, Ray. person
associatedWith Manhattan Project (Organization) corporateBody
associatedWith Maudon Observatory. corporateBody
associatedWith Maudon Observatory (Paris, France) corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Ballooning Project. corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Balloon Project corporateBody
associatedWith Minnesota Geological Survey. corporateBody
associatedWith Mount Lemmon Observatory (Tucson, Ariz.) corporateBody
associatedWith Mount Lemon Observatory. corporateBody
associatedWith Mount Palomar Observatory. corporateBody
associatedWith National Academy of Sciences (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith National Academy of Sciences (U.S.). Balloon Study Committee. corporateBody
associatedWith National Air and Space Museum. Dept. of Space History. corporateBody
associatedWith National Research Council (U.S.). Space Science Board. corporateBody
associatedWith National Research Council (U.S.). Space Sciences Board corporateBody
associatedWith National Science Foundation (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Naval Research Laboratory (U.S.) corporateBody
associatedWith Nier, Alfred O. (Alfred Otto), 1911-1994. person
associatedWith Orbiting Solar Observatory (OSO). corporateBody
associatedWith Piccard, Jean Felix, 1884-1963 person
associatedWith Sagan, Carl, 1934- person
associatedWith Sagan, Carl, 1934-1996. person
associatedWith Stafford, Thomas P. person
associatedWith Stein, Wayne Alfred person
associatedWith Stein, Wayne Alfred. person
associatedWith Twiss, Richard. person
associatedWith United States. Air Force. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Office of Naval Research. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Physics corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Dept. of Physics. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Minnesota. Senate. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Sydney corporateBody
associatedWith University of Sydney. corporateBody
associatedWith University of Virginia. corporateBody
associatedWith Van Allen, James Alfred, 1914- person
associatedWith Winckler, John person
associatedWith Winckler, John. person
associatedWith Winzen Corporation corporateBody
associatedWith Winzen Corporation. corporateBody
associatedWith Woolf, Nicholas person
associatedWith Woolf, Nicholas. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Chacataya (Bolivia)
Africa, French-speaking West
Chacataya (Bolivia)
Africa, French-speaking West
Narrabri (N.S.W.)
Bow Bells (N.D.)
Weeksville (New York, N.Y.)
Narrabri (N.S.W.)
Weeksville (New York, N.Y.)
Bow Bells (N.D.)
Apollo 8 (Spacecraft)
Spectrum analysis--Experiments
Stars, New
Rain and rainfall
Zodiacal light
Balloons in astronomy
Cosmic rays
Challenger (Spacecraft)--Accidents
Infrared astronomy
Solar eclipses
Infrared astronomy--Research
Space flight
Cloud chamber--Experiments
Orbiting solar observatories
Space photography
Astronauts--Training of


Birth 1920-10-28

Death 1996-07-09



Ark ID: w669760x

SNAC ID: 73047343