Colleagues and family remember Dr. Louis Frank, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa, for his “brilliant” mind and dedication to his field. Frank died Friday after battling a long illness.
Frank was born in Chicago and graduated from high school in Fort Madison. His hobbies included nurturing trees, wildlife and cars, but those close to him said his passion was science.
Clyde Frank, his younger brother, said Frank approached life with only “the basis of logic.”
“He was the smartest man I knew,” he said. “He was thoughtful, and brilliant.”
Frank’s daughters Jessica, of Iowa City, and Suzanne, of Waterloo, said their father instilled in them a sense of the importance of dedication, education and a strong work ethic.
Jessica said she remembered visiting her father at his office while she was a student, and he took the time to explain a project he was working on.
“I understood it perfectly, until I left his office,” she said.
Jessica said she also took a lecture from her father and uncle, and said, “He was fascinating when he explained how physics worked in the environment.”
Suzanne said she and her sister were “always aware” of her father’s magnitude. She said, “He had an amazing mind, and we knew it from a young age.”
“One of my fondest memories is of him feeding the chipmunks on his porch and scolding them for trying to live in the downspouts because it wasn’t safe,” she said.
Frank was among one of the first waves of students under James Van Allen, when Frank began professional research in 1958, assisting Van Allen in the calibration of the first U.S. lunar probes, Pioneers 3 and 4.
Frank was a member of UI faculty starting in 1964, where he rose to Professor of Physics. He acted as an experimenter, co-investigator, or principal investigator for instruments on 42 spacecraft, most notably for auroral and plasma instrumentation.
Frank served on various NASA and NAS/NRC committees, was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Geophysical Union, a member of the American Astronomical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Academy of Astronautics, and a recipient of the National Space Act Award.
Donald Gurnett, a UI Professor of Physics, said Frank was a “contemporary,” and the two began working for Van Allen shortly after the launch of Explorer 1.
“He turned into a real leader in space research,” Gurnett said. “An extraordinary leader, I would say, in developing instruments for space research.”
Gurnett said he was best known for his early measurements of the particles that cause the northern lights, and developing a “very successful” low energy particle detector.
Gurnett said Frank was a great scientist, and was said to see “a loss of his productive life.”
William Kurth, a research scientist in the UI Department of Physics and Astronomy, revered Frank for his early work on the plasma instrumentation for the Galileo Mission to Jupiter and the Japanese Geotail spacecraft.
Kurth said another “outstanding” contribution of Frank’s was the global imaging of Earth’s auroral zones and atmosphere, which led to our understanding of the auroras.
“The last several years of his life, it was a shame,” he said. “He had such a brilliant mind, and to have him be in the state that he was in for so long, I think, was quiet sad. It was a loss for everyone.”
Frank was not married at the time of his passing. He leaves behind a sister, Emilou Woods of Colorado, and grandson Taylor Bergstrom of New York.
Memorial services will be held at 10 a.m., Tuesday at the Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Service in Iowa City with visitation from 4 to 7 p.m., Monday at the funeral home. Private family interment will take place at Oakland Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Van Allen Physics Scholarship Fund at the University of Iowa Foundation. Online condolences may be sent for his family through the web at www.gayandciha.com.
Reach Aly Brown at 887-5404 or email@example.com.
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