Science Seminars

Developing Space Physics in a Developing Country, 1949-1964

Speaker: Juan Roederer (LASP)
Date: Thursday, Apr 25, 2019
Time: 4:00 PM
Location: SPSC W120

Seminar Abstract:

In mid-1949 an enterprising teaching assistant at the University of Buenos Aires motivated me and three physics sophomore buddies (including my future wife) to start a modest research project using the newly developed and relatively cheap technique of nuclear photographic emulsions for the study of energetic cosmic ray particles. At that time, cosmic radiation was the only natural phenomenon with measurable signatures revealing planetary-scale properties of “outer space”, most notably, solar activity influences on the external magnetic field. Our research was happening in a 88,000-student university that didn’t have a campus, full-time professorships, physics research labs nor research budgets. Indeed, physics research in Argentina was in the hands of the military: nuclear physics “belonged” to the Navy’s Atomic Energy Commission, geophysics to the Army’s Geographic Institute and atmospheric physics to the Meteorological Service of the Air Force.

I will briefly describe the research achievements during that period—e.g., the first detailed measurement of the geomagnetic latitude effect and atmospheric absorption of the cosmic ray nucleon flux for different primary energies; the first experimental evidence of the magnetized plasma structure of solar mass ejections; and the detection of Bremsstrahlung x-rays from radiation belt electron precipitation into the South Atlantic upper atmosphere. My main focus, however, will center on the difficulties encountered with science policy, politics and funding. They include, among others, the fierce professional jealousy of the military officers “in charge” of research projects; the fierce jealousy of the old part-time university physics professors; periods of up to 30% inflation per month; exorbitant tariffs imposed on importation of scientific equipment; and the difficulty of getting scientific articles published in international journals such as the Physical Review.