James A. Van Allen was born 1914 in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, USA. He received his Doctor´s degree at the State University of Iowa in 1939. Since then, he has been active at the Department of Terrestrial magnetism of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., at the Applied Physics Laboratory of the John Hopkins University, in the US Navy during World War II, at Brookhaven National Laboratory, at Princeton University, and since 1951 at the University of Iowa.
Dr Van Allen´s scientific activity began in experimental nuclear physics, where he developed instruments for counting charged particles. After the war he applied his methods to the study of cosmic rays. He acted as the leader of scientific expeditions in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and to the Arctics, studying cosmic rays, aurora, and the geomagnetic field using balloon-launched rockets. He also developed the Aerobee rocket for scientific purposes. His superior expertise both in rocketry and in relevant scientific instrumentation made him uniquely qualified as Principal Investigator on the Explorer I satellite, which led to the discovery in 1958 of the Earth´s radiation belts, often referred to as the Van Allen belts.
In early 1960´s the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa became the leading space science institute in America, or indeed in the world, under Dr. Van Allen´s leadership. Entire new satellites, such as the Injun satellites, were successfully designed and built there. The scientific output was, and still is, very impressive, not only in terms of high quality publications but also in terms of new PhD´s. A substantial fraction of the presently active space physicists in the United States have, in fact, been educated by Dr Van Allen and his nearly students.
After the discovery of the Earth´s radiation belts Dr Van Allen has actively taken part in the further exploration of not only the Earth´s magnetosphere but also of magnetosphere of other planets. He supplied instruments for the first successful mission to another planet, the Mariner II to Venus in 1963. He has continued exploring the Solar system with instruments onboard Pioneer space probes to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, studying the solar wind and the magnetospheres of those planets. As emeritus he has continued scientific work, publishing several papers annually through the present years. The total number of scientific papers under his name is now close to 250.