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Hale, George Ellery (29 June 1868–21 February 1938), astrophysicist, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of William Ellery Hale, a paper salesman, and Mary Scranton Browne. As a young boy, Hale was fascinated by tools and optics. By the time he was fourteen, he had built a workshop/laboratory that included a steam-driven lathe, a microscope with a camera for photographing slide specimens, and a telescope; the steam engine and telescope he made by himself. Having developed a great interest in astronomy while still in high school, he mounted a refracting telescope on the roof of his house to observe and take photographs of solar phenomena such as partial eclipses and sunspots....

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Langley, Samuel Pierpont (22 August 1834–27 February 1906), astrophysicist and aviation experimenter, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Langley, a wholesale merchant and banker, and Mary Sumner Williams. Langley attended the Boston Latin School and graduated from the Boston High School in 1851. He spent the years 1851–1857 preparing for a career in civil engineering and architecture and worked as a draftsman and merchant in Chicago and St. Louis from 1857 to 1864....

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Spitzer, Lyman, Jr. (26 June 1914–31 March 1997), theoretical astrophysicist and director of the Princeton University Observatory, was born in Toledo, Ohio, the son of Lyman Spitzer, a well-to-do businessman, and Blanche Brumback Spitzer. Young Lyman was educated in Toledo until he was fifteen, and then entered Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. Under the tutelage of a kindly teacher, he developed a strong interest in physics. Reading the popular books of English theorists Arthur Eddington and James Jeans inspired Spitzer's enthusiasm for research in the grandest topic in astrophysics, the evolution of the universe. In 1932 he entered Yale, earning his B.A. in theoretical physics under ...

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Van Allen, James A. (07 September 1914–09 August 2006), astrophysicist, was born James Alfred Van Allen in Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa, the second of four sons of Alfred Morris Van Allen, a lawyer, and Alma Olney Van Allen, a schoolteacher. His paternal grandfather, George Clinton Van Allen, the son of a shipbuilder, was a surveyor for the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad who settled in Mount Pleasant in 1862, opening a law office that specialized in land titles. Alfred, educated at Iowa Wesleyan College and the State University of Iowa, followed his father in the business and Henry County politics. Alma was a farmer’s daughter from Eddyville, Iowa, who graduated from Iowa Wesleyan Academy and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. James later remembered his close-knit family as consciously aware of its relationship to those first trailblazing settlers who emphasized self-sufficiency, thrift, work, and education....