Birthplace: Chicago, IL
Location of death: Tasmania, Australia
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Cremated, ashes scattered at two dozen observatories around the world
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: First radio astronomer
Grote Reber was trained as an electrical engineer, and spent the first fifteen years of his career working for radio manufacturers in the Chicago area and operating a ham radio station in his spare time. Fascinated by Karl Jansky's 1932 discovery of radio waves from the Galaxy, he taught himself astronomy, and in 1937 he constructed the world's first radio telescope. Made mostly of sheet metal, it was a 31-ft parabolic transit dish powered by an extension cord to his back yard, where until the end of World War II he remained the world's only radio astronomer. In 1938 his device detected radio emissions from the Milky Way, confirming Jansky's discovery, but Reber had difficulty having his findings published -- astronomers at the time knew little about radio, and radio engineers knew little about astronomy. His landmark papers were published in Astrophysical Journal only after several "real" astronomers had visited his dish in Wheaton, Illinois.
In the late 1930s and early '40s he conducted the first thorough surveys of radio waves across the sky, and organized his data in maps showing the radio radiation of the Milky Way. In 1944, he became the first to detect radio emissions from the Andromeda galaxy and the sun. As his reputation grew, Reber became a professional scientist when he was hired at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) in 1947, to manage the agency's first radio telescope. He chaffed at the bureaucracy and quit within a few years, moving to Hawaii, where he designed and built a rotating antenna to study the ionosphere. In the 1950s he turned his attention to cosmic radio waves at very low frequencies, which can only penetrate the Earth's ionosphere in certain areas and times of low solar activity. One area where these waves can reach the Earth is the Tasmanian region of Australia, so Reber relocated and continued his studies there until his death, with generally unrestricted grants from the Research Corporation. He also conducted research in archeology, botany, electronics, and meteorology, and designed his own energy-efficient home and electric car.
His mother was a school teacher before marrying, and taught 7th and 8th grade science to Edwin Hubble. Often described as a loner, Reber never married.
Father: Schuyler Colefax Reber (owned a canning factory, b. 1867, d. 1933)
Mother: Harriet Grote Reber (b. 1871, d. 1945)
Brother: Schuyler Reber (b. 1914, d. 1989)
High School: Wheaton High School, Wheaton, IL (1929)
University: BS Electrical Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology (1933)
Bruce Medal 1962
American Astronomical Society
Institute of Radio Engineers
Research Corporation Independent Research Grants (1954-2002)
National Institute of Standards and Technology Radio Physicist (1947-51)
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