Low, Frank James

Low, Frank James,

1933–2009, American astronomer and physicist, b. Mobile, Ala., grad. Yale (B.S. 1955), Rice Univ. (M.A. 1957, Ph.D 1959). Low, who worked at Texas Instruments and the National Radio Astronomy Oberservatory before joining the faculties at the Univ. of Arizona (1965 until his death) and at Rice (1966–79), was a trailblazer in infrared astronomyinfrared astronomy,
study of celestial objects by means of the infrared radiation they emit, in the wavelength range from about 1 micrometer to about 1 millimeter. All objects, from trees and buildings on the earth to distant galaxies, emit infrared (IR) radiation.
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, developing many of the instruments and techniques that led to significant discoveries in the field. While still at Texas Instruments he developed a gallium-doped germanium low-temperature thermometer that led to his development (1961) of an improved infrared bolometerbolometer
, instrument for detecting and measuring radiation, e.g., visible light, infrared radiation, and ultraviolet radiation, in amounts as small as one millionth of an erg. The bolometer was invented in 1880 by Samuel P. Langley.
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. Beginning in the mid-196Os he pioneered airborne astronomy, using telescopes in high-altitude aircraft to make astronomical observations that were freer from interference by atmospheric water vapor. He later was the chief technologist on the Infrared Astronomy Satellite (IRAS, launched 1983) and was influential in the design of subsequent space telescopes, including the Spitzer Space Telescope (launched 2003), for which he developed the instrumentation. Low also founded (1967) Infrared Laboratories to make state-of-the-art astronomical instruments.
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