Born Vermillion, South Dakota, USA, 12 October 1890
Died Easton, Maryland, USA, 8 October 1982
American optical physicist Edward Hulburt received his AB from Johns Hopkins University in 1911 and his Ph.D. in physics there in 1915, with a thesis on the reflecting properties of metals in the ultraviolet. After holding teaching positions at Hopkins and Western Reserve universities, he was appointed the superintendent of the physical optics division of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington in 1924. He spent the rest of his career there, becoming director of research in 1949 and retiring in 1956. During World War I, Hulburt served in the Signal Corps, rising to the rank of captain, and during World War II he was part of the army/navy vision committee.
Hulburt worked on a wide variety of problems in the propagation and measurement of both light and radio waves, investigating electron tubes as radio detectors as early as 1920. He developed a theory of aurorae and magnetic storms, in which ultraviolet [UV] radiation from the Sun was the primary energy source, in 1929. The UV radiation was directly measured in 1947 from a captured V2 rocket, though it turns out that X-rays and particle radiation from the Sun are also important for these phenomena. Hulburt observed the Sun and Moon from Antarctica starting in 1931, participated in a number of solar eclipse expeditions, and was part of the observing team for the Bikini bomb tests in 1946. He also made contributions to the understanding of the structure of the Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere and to propagation of radio waves in it. His work was of direct relevance both to the interests of the navy and to astronomy.
Hulburt was associate editor of the Journal of Optics (1938–1947), a fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and part of the United States National Committee for the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958). He received medals from the Optical Society of America and the American Geophysical Union. His 1920 marriage produced two children.