Alfred Lee Loomis

From Academic Kids

Alfred Lee Loomis (November 4, 1887-August 11, 1975) was an American lawyer, investment banker, physicist, philanthropist, and patron of scientific research. He established the Loomis Laboratory in Tuxedo Park, New York, and his discoveries in practical physics were considered instrumental in the Allied victory in World War II.

Born in New York City, New York, Loomis was the son of Henry Patterson Loomis and Julia Stimson. He did his undergraduate work at Yale University, graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1912, and worked in corporate law after graduation.

In 1917, with the United States' entry into World War I, Loomis volunteered for military service. He was commissioned as a captain and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He worked in ballistics at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where he invented the "Aberdeen Chronograph", the first portable instrument able to measure muzzle velocity and striking power of bullets. At Aberdeen, he met and worked with Johns Hopkins physicist Robert W. Wood, under whose influence Loomis's longtime interest in inventing and gadgetry evolved into a serious pursuit of experimental and practical physics.

In the 1920s, Loomis collaborated with his brother-in-law Landon K. Thorne to take their firm, Bonbright and Company, from the verge of bankruptcy to becoming a preeminent U.S. investment banking-house specializing in public utilities. Loomis and Thorne pioneered the concept of the holding company, consolidating many of the electric companies on the East Coast. During these years, he became very wealthy. Just prior to the 1929 stock market crash, Loomis liquidated his holdings, thereby avoiding financial ruin. He proceeded to use his personal wealth to support scientific research over the ensuing two decades.

Loomis established the Tuxedo Park Loomis Laboratory, some thirty miles north of Manhattan, in what had been a summer resort for wealthy New Yorkers. Throughout the 1930s, prominent scientists lived on the grounds while collaborating on research, which in its early years focused on timekeeping and on electroencephalography. The facility was also visited by internationally prominent scientists, including Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Vannevar Bush, Enrico Fermi, and James Franck.

In 1939, Loomis began a collaboration with Ernest Lawrence, and was instrumental in financing Lawrence's project to construct a 184- inch cyclotron. By this time, he had become a prominent figure in experimental physics, and had moved his Tuxedo Park operations to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he entered upon a joint operation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Through much of his career as a scientist, Loomis was viewed with skepticism by academicians who considered him a businessman who dabbled in science. Scientists who worked personally with him however were convinced of his capability and industry. Due to his expertise and his demonstrated ability to raise funds for research, he was selected during World War II to chair the Microwave Committee of the National Defense Research Committee. Much of his work involved the problem of creating a light system for plane-carried radar. In these years he invented LORAN, the long-range navigation system whose offshoot LORAN C remains in widespread use. Loomis also made a significant contribution to the development of ground-controlled approach technology, a precursor of today's instrument-landing systems, which used radar to permit ground controllers to "talk-down" airplane pilots when poor visibility made visual landings difficult or impossible.

President Roosevelt recognized the value of Loomis's work and described him as second perhaps only to Churchill as the civilian most responsible for the Allied victory in World War II.

He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1940, and received honorary degrees from Wesleyan University (D.Sc.,1932), Yale University (M.Sc 1933), and the University of California (LL.D 1941).

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