Bengt Georg Daniel Strömgren (21 January 1908 – 4 July 1987) was a
Danish astronomer and astrophysicist.
Bengt Strömgren was born in Gothenburg. His parents were Hedvig
Strömgren (née Lidforss) and Elis Strömgren, who was professor of
astronomy at the University of
Copenhagen and director of the
University Observatory in Copenhagen. Bengt grew up in the professor's
mansion surrounded with scientists, assistants, observers and guests.
His father paced and promoted Bengt into a life with science, and
Bengt's first paper was published already at the age of 14. He
graduated from high school in 1925 and enrolled at the Copenhagen
university. Only two years later, he graduated in astronomy and atomic
physics, and during the following two years, he completed a doctoral
degree, which was evaluated with the best marks in December 1929, when
he was 21 years old.
He gained a great deal of useful experience from his studies in
theoretical physics at Niels Bohr's Institute close by, and he was at
the right place at the right time. He soon found out that he intended
to use the fresh theoretical framework of quantum physics in space,
and investigate the applications of quantum mechanics in stars.
Obviously, questions of nepotism were in play when he applied for an
assistantship already in 1925, which he didn't get. But only one year
later it was given to him anyway — he was the best, regardless of
his employer being also his own father.
After being appointed as lecturer at the university in 1932,
Strömgren was invited to the
University of Chicago
University of Chicago in 1936 by Otto
Struve. Going abroad for 18 months meant a lot to the young
researcher, and when he went back to
Denmark and to the rising
national socialism in Europe, he succeeded his father's professorship
in 1940. During five years of isolation, under the German occupation
of Denmark, he initiated the building of a new Danish Observatory, the
Brorfelde Observatory. But after the Second World War, Bengt
Strömgren became tired of lacking state funding for the project, and
with a stagnant national economy, he felt that he had to leave Danish
research, which he did in 1951.
He went to the
United States and became director of the Yerkes and
McDonald Observatories, and stayed there for six years. In 1957, he
was appointed the first professor of theoretical astrophysics at the
Institute for Advanced Study
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he got Albert
Einstein's office. He stayed at Princeton with his family until 1967,
when he went back to his homeland Denmark, and became the next to the
last resident in a series of great Danish scientists of the Carlsberg
Mansion and Honor, which had earlier been occupied by
Niels Bohr among
others. In 1987, he died after a short period of illness.
Bengt Strömgren made momentous contributions to astrophysics. He
found that the chemical composition of stars was very much different
than previously assumed. In the late 1930s, he found the relative
abundance of hydrogen to be nearly 70%, and helium to be about 27%.
Just before the war, he discovered the so-called Strömgren Spheres
— huge interstellar shells of ionized hydrogen around stars. And in
the 1950s and 1960s, he pioneered photoelectric photometry with a
novel four-color system, now called Strömgren photometric system.
Apart from the Danish observatory of Brorfelde, Strömgren was active
in the early organisation of the joint European observatory of
4 External links
Bruce Medal (1959)
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society
Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1962)
Henry Norris Russell Lectureship (1965)
Janssen Medal from the
French Academy of Sciences
French Academy of Sciences (1967)
Named after him
Asteroid 1846 Bengt
Asteroid 1493 Sigrid, named after his wife
^ Spitzer Jr., Lyman (March 1988). "Bengt Strömgren".
41 (3): 112–114. Bibcode:1988PhT....41c.112S. doi:10.1063/1.2811365.
Archived from the original on 2013-10-04.
Svend Cedergreen Bech (ed.): Dansk Biografisk Leksikon (1979-84), 3rd
ed. Put on-line by Den Store Danske in 2011. (in Danish)
Bengt Strömgrens life among the stars,
Niels Bohr Institute
Bruce Medalist Bengt Strömgren
Autobiography in a celebrative commemorative published by University
Copenhagen November 1930 (176-78) (Berlingske Tidende id.
17.9.1962). (in Danish)
Knude, Jens, Bengt Stromgren's Work in Photometry, in A.G.D. Philip,
A.R. Upgren and K.A. Janes, eds., "Precision Photometry: Astrophysics
of the Galaxy", Proceedings of the conference held 3-4 October 1990 at
Union College, Schenectady, NY (Davis Press, Schenectady, NY, 1991).
Rebsdorf, Simon Olling (May 2003): Bengt Strömgren: growing up with
astronomy, 1908 - 1932, Journal for the History of
0021-8286), Vol. 34, Part 2, No. 115, pp. 171 - 199 (2003)
Rebsdorf, Simon Olling (August 2004): The Father, the Son, and the
Bengt Strömgren and the History of Twentieth Century Astronomy
Denmark and in the USA. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Aarhus.
Rebsdorf, Simon Olling (February 2007): Bengt Strömgren: Interstellar
Helium Content, and Solar Life Supply, 1932–1940. Centaurus,
Vol. 49, Issue 1, pages 56–79.
Gustafsson, Bengt (2009): Bengt Strömgren’s Approach to the Galaxy,
in J. Andersen, J. Bland-Hawthorn & B. Nordström, eds., "The
Galaxy Disk in Cosmological Context." Proceedings IAU Symposium No.
254 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009), pp. 3-16.
Bibliography of Bengt Strömgren
Bruce Medalist Bengt Strömgren
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