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Fellows Profile
By Tom Godfrey, OSSC Historian

-Ira Sprague Bowen-

(21 Dec 1898 - 6 Feb 1973)


OSSC Councilor (1951-1953)


OSSC Fellow & Astronomical Society of the Pacific 1957 Bruce Medallist* --"Ike" Bowen was a charter member of OSSC and a Councilor on our first Board of Directors (1951-52 and '52-53).  He studied at the Houghton Seminary and at Oberlin College.  As a graduate student at the University of Chicago he worked with Robert A. Milliken (Nobel Laureate and fellow Oberlin College graduate), whom he accompanied to the California Institute of Technology.  There he taught physics, researched cosmic rays, and took his Ph.D.  His investigation of the ultraviolet spectra of highly ionized atoms led to his identification of the mysterious "nebulum" spectral lines of gaseous nebulae as forbidden lines of ionized oxygen and nitrogen.  He soon explained most of the lines of gaseous nebulae.  As director of the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories from 1948-64, he directed the completion of the 200-inch Hale telescope and 48-inch Schmidt telescope and designed many of their instruments including a novel spectrograph.  He also initiated baking photographic plates to improve their sensitivity.


The Astronomical Society of the Pacific website has information about Ira Bowen.  If you click on "Awards", then "Bruce Gold Medal", you are taken to a list of the Bruce Medallists.  Clicking on Bowen's name once took you to a brief bio from which this one was taken; this link is no longer active.  The Caltech Archives have photos, papers and other works by or about Ira Bowen.