Ira Sprague Bowen
|Ira Sprague Bowen|
December 21, 1898|
Seneca Falls, New York, United States
|Died||February 6, 1973(aged 74)|
|Institutions||Mount Wilson Observatory
|Alma mater||California Institute of Technology|
|Notable awards||Henry Draper Medal (1942)
Bruce Medal (1957)
Ira Sprague Bowen (December 21, 1898 – February 6, 1973) was an American physicist and astronomer. In 1927 he discovered that nebulium was not really a chemical element but instead doubly ionized oxygen.
Life and work
Bowen was born in Seneca Falls, New York in 1898 to Philinda Sprague and James Bowen. Due to frequent moves of his family he was home schooled until the death of his father in 1908. From that point on he attended the Houghton College where his mother worked as teacher. After graduation from high school in 1915 Bowen stayed at the junior college of Houghton College and later joined Oberlin College from which he graduated in 1919. During the time at Oberlin College Bowen did some research on the properties of steel together with the scientist Robert Hadfield. The results were published in 1921.
Bowen started studying physics at the University of Chicago in fall 1919. Already in 1921 Bowen took a position in the research group of Robert Andrews Millikan. He was assigned to do ultraviolet spectroscopy of chemical elements. Millikan was persuaded by George Ellery Hale to move to the California Institute of Technology in 1921 and Bowen moved with him. The contact with Hale enabled Bowen also to work at the Mount Wilson Observatory and the Palomar Observatory. Bowen gave lectures on general physics at Caltech and did research on cosmic rays and followed his studies on UV spectroscopy. He also did calculations on spectra for the light elements of the periodic table. With that data and the inspiration from a chapter on gaseous nebula and the emission of radiation at low density in the book Astronomy by Henry Norris Russell, Raymond Smith Dugan and John Quincy Stewart he achieved his best known discovery.
The green emission lines of the Cat's Eye Nebula at 4959 and 5007 Ångström were discovered by William Huggins in 1864. Because no known element was showing these emission lines in the experiment it was concluded in the late 1890s that a new element was responsible for that lines, it was called nebulium. Bowen was able to calculate the forbidden transitions of doubly ionized oxygen to be exactly where the lines had been found. The low probability for collisions in the nebula made it impossible for the oxygen to get from the excited stated to the ground state and so the forbidden transitions were the main path for the relaxation. Bowen published his findings in 1927 and concluded that nebulium was not really a chemical element.
Bowen was elected to the National Academie of Science in 1936.
Before his retirement in 1964 and even afterwards Bowen was involved in the improvement of the optical design of several large optical instruments, for example the 100 inch Irenee duPont at the Las Campanas Observatory.
He is also known in the context of meteorology for the introduction of the Bowen ratio, which quantifies the ratio of sensible to latent heat over an evaporating surface.
- Henry Draper Medal from the National Academy of Sciences (1942)
- Howard N. Potts Medal (1946)
- Rumford Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1949) 
- Frederic Ives Medal (1952)
- Bruce Medal (1957)
- Henry Norris Russell Lectureship (1964)
- Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1966)
Named after him
- Bruce Medal page
- Awarding of Bruce medal: PASP 69 (1957) 105
- Awarding of RAS gold medal: QJRAS 7 (1966) 114
- Oral History interview transcript with Ira Sprague Bowen 9 & 26 August 1968, American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library and Archives
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
- Aller, L. H. (1974). "I. S. Bowen, 1898 December 21 - 1973 February 6". Quarterly Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society 15: 193–196. Bibcode:1974QJRAS..15..193A.
- Babcock, Horace W. (1982). "Ira Sprague Bowen 1898 - 1973". Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 53. National Academy Press. pp. 82–119.
- Vaughan Jr., Arthur H. (May 1973). "Obituary: Ira Sprague Bowen". Physics Today 26 (5): 77–78. Bibcode:1973PhT....26e..77V. doi:10.1063/1.3128066.
- Hockey, Thomas (2009). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers. Springer Publishing. ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. Retrieved August 22, 2012.
- Hadfield, Robert; Williams, S. R.; Bowen, I. S. (1921). "The Magnetic Mechanical Analysis of Manganese Steel". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series A 98 (692): 297–302. Bibcode:1921RSPSA..98..297H. doi:10.1098/rspa.1921.0004. JSTOR 93947.
- Bowen, I. S. (1927). "The Origin of the Nebulium Spectrum". Nature 120 (3022): 473. Bibcode:1927Natur.120..473B. doi:10.1038/120473a0.
- "Henry Draper Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- "Past Recipients of the Rumford Prize". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- "Past Winners of the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal". Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- "Grants, Prizes and Awards". American Astronomical Society. Retrieved 24 February 2011.
- "Winners of the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society". Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved 24 February 2011.