William E. Gordon

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William E. Gordon
William E. Gordon (Nov. 2003).tiff
Bill at AO visitor center Nov. 2003
Born William Edwin Gordon
(1918-01-08)January 8, 1918
Paterson, New Jersey, U.S.
Died February 16, 2010(2010-02-16) (aged 92)
Ithaca, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Cornell University
Known for Designing the largest radio telescope
Awards Arctowski Medal (1984)
Scientific career
Fields engineering, space science, astronomy
Institutions Cornell University
Arecibo Observatory
Rice University
Doctoral advisor Henry G Booker

William Edwin Gordon (January 8, 1918 – February 16, 2010) was a physicist and astronomer.[1] He is referred to as the "father of the Arecibo Observatory".[2][3]


He was born in Paterson, New Jersey on January 8, 1918, he received a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University in 1953. He was a faculty member at Cornell University from 1953 to 1965. He joined the faculty of Rice University in 1966, serving as Dean of Science and Engineering, Dean of Natural Sciences, and Provost and Vice President.

Gordon wanted to study the properties of the Earth's upper atmosphere, the ionosphere, and thought that he could use a radar system to measure the density and temperature in this difficult-to-study atmospheric region. His calculations indicated that an antenna approximately 305 meters (1,000 ft) in diameter would do the job, but would be far too expensive to build using existing designs for radio and radar antennas. He oversaw the design of the radio telescope and its construction in the karst foothills just south of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.[4][5][6][7][8] At its fortieth anniversary, it was named both a "Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing" and also a "Mechanical Engineering Landmark." [9]

He served as the Director of the resultant Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory from 1960 to 1965. Encouraged by work at the Platteville Atmospheric Observatory, Gordon was influential in getting an ionospheric heater built at Islote, about 30 km from the Arecibo Observatory, which operated until 1998 when it was destroyed by Hurricane Georges.

In 1966 he moved to Rice University to become Dean of Science and Engineering and a faculty member of both the Department of Space Science (later Space Physics and Astronomy) and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He subsequently served as Vice President and Provost. He guided 12 doctoral dissertations while serving as administrator.

He retired in 1986 to become Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Space Physics and Astronomy and of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rice University. He was a member of many respected professional and academic societies, including the National Academy of Sciences (since 1968) and National Academy of Engineering (since 1975). In 1984 Gordon was awarded the Arctowski Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.[10] He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, (since 1986).

He died in Ithaca, New York on February 16, 2010 at the age of 92.[1]


  1. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (February 26, 2010). "W. E. Gordon, Creator of Link to Deep Space, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-26. William E. Gordon, an electrical engineer who conceived, designed, built and operated the world’s largest radio telescope, which has been described as Earth’s ear to outer space, died on Feb. 16 at his home in Ithaca, N.Y. He was 92. ...
  2. ^ Weil, Martin (2010-02-21). "William E. Gordon, 92; father of Arecibo radio telescope". www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2010-02-21.
  3. ^ Gold, Lauren (2010-02-21). "William E. Gordon -- 1918-2010". Computespace. Retrieved 2010-04-06.
  4. ^ Gold, Thomas (2013), "7", Taking the Back off the Watch: A Personal Memoir (1 ed.), New York: Springer Heidelberg, p. 119, doi:10.1007/978-3-642-27588-3, ISBN 978-3-642-27587-6
  5. ^ Frè, Pietro (2013), "7", Gravity, a geometrical course, 1:Development of the theory and basic physical applications (1 ed.), New York: Springer, p. 276, doi:10.1007/978-94-007-5361-7, ISBN 978-94-007-5360-0
  6. ^ Matthews, John (2013), "A short history of geophysical radar at Arecibo Observatory" (PDF), History of Geo- and Space Sciences, Copernicus Publications, 4 (1): 20, doi:10.5194/hgss-4-19-2013
  7. ^ Cohen, Marshall H. (2009), "Genesis of the 1000-foot Arecibo dish" (PDF), Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 12 (2): 141–152
  8. ^ US 3273156, Doundoulakis, Helias, "Radio telescope having a scanning feed supported by a cable suspension over a stationary reflector", issued 1966 
  9. ^ Farley, Donald (2010-03-24). "Obituary: William E. Gordon (1918-2010)". Nature. 464: 502. Bibcode:2010Natur.464..502F. doi:10.1038/464502a.
  10. ^ "Arctowski Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 2 January 2006. Retrieved 13 February 2011.

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