Kinsey A. Anderson, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and an international leader in the field now called space physics, died June 11 in an assisted living facility in Pinole, Calif. He was 85 and suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
For four decades, Anderson built experiments that flew on balloons, rockets and satellites and helped explain the nature of Earth’s aurora, or northern lights; solar flares and solar energetic particles; the solar wind sweeping through space; and the structure of Earth’s magnetic "tail."
While a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the early 1950s, he was a member of the group that first developed balloons that could take experiments to high altitudes in order to study cosmic rays and X-rays that are blocked by the atmosphere. He used these balloons, and later sounding rockets, to study high-energy cosmic rays and particles from the sun.
At UC Berkeley, he designed and built more advanced instruments that flew on over two dozen satellites. He convinced NASA that the Apollo 15 and 16 missions, which landed on the moon in the early 1970s, should carry subsatellites that could be left in lunar orbit. The goal was to measure the shadowing of energetic electrons by the moon to determine the motion of Earth’s magnetic tail, but he and former student Robert Lin, now a UC Berkeley professor of physics, discovered that electron detectors could also be used to measure the magnetic field on the surface of the moon. Lin subsequently built instruments for the Lunar Prospector and Mars Global Surveyor that used this technique to map the surface magnetic fields of the moon and Mars.
"It was a time of great discovery in space, and Kinsey opened up the entire field of space physics, helping to understand new phenomena that had never been seen before," Lin said. "It was a very exciting time."
In 1986, he and Lin also built detectors that flew aboard the European Space Agency’s Giotto spacecraft to sample gases coming off Halley’s Comet.
Anderson served for 10 years (1970-79) as director of UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL).During that time, the laboratory became a world leader in space research, said Lin, who subsequently served as SSL director.
Born in Preston, Minn., on Sept. 18, 1926, Anderson graduated from Carleton College in Minnesota in 1949 with a B.A. in physics and joined the University of Minnesota group that conducted the original research and development of balloons later used for high altitude research. He was awarded a patent for a novel method of measuring stresses in balloon material for different shapes of balloons.
For his Ph.D. thesis under University of Minnesota professor John Winckler, he used the balloon technology to measure cosmic rays at various latitudes and altitudes, even launching balloons from a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South Pacific. After completing his thesis in 1955, he accepted a post-doctoral position at the University of Iowa, where he subsequently joined the faculty in 1958.