Marcel Nicolet (1912–1996)

Marcel Nicolet was born on February, 26, 1912, in Basse-Bodeux, Belgium, and died in Uccle/Brussels on October 8, 1996. He received his Ph.D. in 1937 from the University of Liege. He did meteorological forecasting for several years prior to the war, which stopped this activity and launched him into a comprehensive study of the atmospheric attenuation of solar radiation, leading to his famous memoir of 1945, Contribution à 1’Etude de la Structure de l’Ionosphère, which included the ingenious proposal that the quiet D region was formed by the ionization of nitric oxide (NO) by hydrogen Lyman alpha.

Nicolet crossed paths with many of the pioneers of upper atmosphere research. He made ultraviolet observations of the night sky during 1938–1939 at Arosa and studied ozone problems there with Gotz and Dobson. He first met Appleton, Chapman, and Ratcliffe at one of the first international scientific meetings after World War II, a 1946 Union Radio Scientifique International (URSI) meeting held in Paris. Nicolet came to the United States for the first time in January 1950. Invited by Roach to work with Bates in Pasadena on airglow, he met prominent researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, Caltech, and Mount Wilson Observatory. The collaboration with Bates was fruitful. They had four fundamental papers published in 1950: on hydroxyl (OH) emissions, atmospheric hydrogen, water vapor photochemistry, and sodium D-line emissions. However, most of Nicolet’s papers were of sole authorship and often were quite comprehensive in scope, such as his 1975 thesis on stratospheric ozone. While in California, he and Bates aided Chapman on the proposed division of atmospheric layers from the troposphere to the exosphere. From their knowledge of Greek, Katherine Chapman and Nicolet suggested “mesosphere” for the layer between the stratosphere and the thermosphere.

Passing through Washington, D.C., on his way to California, Nicolet met Berkner and Tuve and spent some time at the Naval Research Laboratory with Hulburt and Tousey. Before returning to Belgium, Nicolet attended a meeting at Penn State, where Berkner and others suggested a campaign similar to the Second International Polar Year (1932–1933), i.e., the International Geophysical Year (IGY). Waynick invited Nicolet to become a Visiting Professor at Penn State, which led to the five Ph.D. degrees granted under his tutelage over the next 20 years. Throughout his career, however, Nicolet remained at the Royal Meteorological Institute, beginning in 1935 as a forecaster for aviation, and in 1946 as Head of its Radiation Division. In 1964 he became the first Director of the Institut D’Aeronomie Spatiale De Belgique, which broke off as a separate entity, a post he retained until 1977. He also served as Secretary-General of the IGY, 1953–1960; President of the International Association of Geomagnetism and Aeronomy, 1963–1967; and longtime member of the Committee on Space Programs and Research (COSPAR) Executive Committee. Concurrently, he held professorships at the Universities of Brussels and Liege and at the Pennsylvania State University.

Nicolet was blessed with a near-photographic memory and began his aeronomic career by reading virtually every pertinent paper. (Now impossible!) He was a pleasure to speak with since he was like a walking library and could cite references in detail, and he was always current. Many benefitted from such talks. A brilliant student, he received first prize, University Exam of Belgium (1935–1937) and Triennial de Potter Prize of the Belgium Royal Academy (1940–1942). His achievements in scientific research (300 published papers) and administration earned him the Guggenheim prize for discovery in Astronautics (1963), the Hodgkins Medal of the Smithsonian Institution for achievements in Aeronomy (1965), the American Geophysical Union’s William Bowie Medal in 1984, memberships in international scientific academies (Belgium, United States, France, and Northern Ireland), and many other distinctions, notably the title of hereditary Baron, conferred by King Boudouin in 1987.

—William Swider

U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory
Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts

Reginald Daly (1871–1957)

Reginald Daly was born in Napanee, Ontario, on March 18, 1871. He graduated from Victoria College in 1891, after which he remained at the University of Toronto for an additional year in order to teach mathematics and to acquire his S.B. degree. During this time he came under the influence of geologist A. P. Coleman and decided to pursue graduate studies in Earth science. He entered Harvard University in 1892, receiving his M.A. in 1893 and his Ph.D. 3 years later. Postgraduate study took him to Heidelberg, where he learned thin-section analysis, as well as to Paris, where he studied with Alfred Lacroix. In 1898, Daly returned to Harvard to serve as an instructor in geology, a post he retained until 1901, when he began a 6-year stint as field geologist with the Canadian International Boundary Commission. Returning to academia in 1907, Daly taught physical geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 5 years; he then accepted the position of Sturgis-Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard. He retained this appointment until his retirement in 1942.

Beginning with his work at Mount Ascutney, Vermont (begun in 1893), Daly understood the importance of field studies in defining key questions about geologic processes. Thus his exhaustive examination of some 400 miles of terrain along the 49th parallel led to a theory of the origin of igneous rocks. Similarly, his expedition to the Samoan Islands, funded by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, resulted in theories of the relationship of sea level, mediated by glacial effects, on the formation of coral atolls. As a member of the Shaler Memorial Expedition to the southern hemisphere (1921–1922), Daly mapped St. Helena and the Ascension Islands, visited South Africa, and contributed to understanding the stratigraphy of the region.

Daly’s field studies also stimulated his theoretical speculations about rock mechanics and led to new questions about the Earth and its dynamic processes. He used these insights to great effect in the classroom, thus inspiring the next generation of Earth scientists, notably, petrologist Norman Bowen. Daly also developed many fruitful collaborations with scientists in other research areas. For instance, in an effort to understand the physical properties of rocks and rock melts, he worked with physicist Percy Bridgman at Harvard and with high-pressure researchers at the Geophysical Laboratory in Washington. He also wrote and lectured widely, sharing his views and enthusiasm with students and the general public alike. His text book Igneous Rocks and Their Origin appeared in 1914 and remained a staple for college instruction for many years.

For this diverse body of work, Daly received many honors, including honorary degrees from the University of Heidelberg, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University, as well as membership in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1909), the American Philosophical Society (1913), and the National Academy of Sciences (1925). He received the Penrose Medal from the Geological Society of America in 1935 and, despite his protestations of unworthiness, the William Bowie Medal from the American Geophysical Union in 1946. In his acceptance speech for the latter, Daly claimed to be a “tireless advocate of cooperation in Earth science,” and it is, perhaps, this breadth of vision and commitment to synthesis that defines his reputation today. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 19, 1957.

—Robert M. Hazen

Carnegie Institution of Washington
Washington, D.C.

Jule Gregory Charney (1917–1981)


Jule Gregory Charney was born in San Francisco, California, on January 1, 1917, the son of Ely Charney and Stella Littman. Both parents were Yiddish-speaking Russian Jews, and both worked in the garment industry. The family moved to the Los Angeles area in 1922. All of Charney’s earned degrees were from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA): an A.B. in mathematics in 1938, an M.A. in mathematics in 1940, and a Ph.D. in meteorology in 1946. From 1942 to 1946, Charney was an instructor in physics and meteorology at UCLA. His dissertation, titled “Dynamics of long waves in a baroclinic westerly current,” comprised the entire October 1947 issue of the Journal of Meteorology. This paper was influential in two important ways: (1) it emphasized the influence of “long waves” in the upper atmosphere on the behavior of the entire atmosphere rather than the more traditional emphasis on the polar front and (2) it provided a simplified way of analyzing perturbations along these waves that proved both physically insightful and mathematically rigorous.

After graduation, Charney served for a year as a research associate at the University of Chicago. During the academic year 1947–1948 he held a National Research Council postgraduate fellowship at the University of Oslo, Norway. During this year he developed a set of equations for calculating the large-scale motions of planetary-scale waves known as the “quasi-geostrophic approximation.” Charney’s technique consisted of replacing the horizontal wind by the geostrophic wind in the term representing the vorticity but not in the term representing the divergence. The result was a manageable set of filtered equations governing large-scale atmospheric and oceanic flows.

From 1948 to 1956, Charney was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. His supervisor, the noted mathematician John von Neumann, was in charge of a project to develop an electronic computer. Charney served as director of the theoretical meteorology. His group constructed a successful mathematical model of the atmosphere and demonstrated that numerical weather prediction was both feasible (using the ENIAC computer, which took 24 hours to generate a forecast) and practicable (using von Neumann’s stored-program computer to generate a forecast in 5 minutes). In 1954, Charney helped establish a numerical weather prediction unit within the U.S. Weather Bureau.

Charney was professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) from 1956 to 1981 and was Alfred P. Sloan Professor there from 1966. His research focused on the dynamics of atmospheres and oceans. From 1963 to 1966 he was chair of the National Research Council’s Panel on International Meteorological Cooperation and from 1968 to 1971 he was chair of the U.S. Committee for the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP), a decade-long international experiment to measure the global circulation of the atmosphere, to model its behavior, and to improve predictions of its future state. Charney was instrumental in articulating the global goals and vision of GARP and consistently argued that scientists needed to view the atmosphere as a single, global system.

Charney was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1937. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society. He was a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the Norwegian and Royal Swedish Academies of Science. Among his many awards were the Meisinger Award (1949) and the Rossby Medal (1964) of the American Meteorological Society, the Losey Award of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences (1957), the Symons Medal of the Royal Meteorological Society (1961), the Hodgkins Medal of the Smithsonian Institution (1968), and the International Meteorological Organization prize (1971). He was much in demand as a visiting professor and guest lecturer. The University of Chicago awarded him an honorary D.Sc. in 1970.

Charney was married to Elinor Kesting Frye in 1946. Elinor had a son who took the Charney name; the couple had two other children. Following a battle with cancer, Charney died in Boston on June 16, 1981.

In 1990, the American Meteorological Society published a memorial volume containing reprints of Charney’s most important papers and articles by scientists who knew him. Jule Charney’s personal papers are located in the MIT archives.


—James Rodger Fleming

Colby College
Waterville, Maine