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Willard H. Bennett

Radio Frequency Mass Spectrometer

U.S. Patent No. 2,721,271
Inducted in 1991
Born June 13, 1903 - Died Sept. 28, 1987
Military Service: U.S. Army

Willard Harrison Bennett pioneered the field of plasma physics and invented the radio frequency mass spectrometer. Born in Findlay, Ohio, Bennett attended Carnegie Institute of Technology and Ohio State University. He received his master's from the University of Wisconsin in 1926 and his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1928. In 1930 he joined the Physics faculty at Ohio State.

Following service in World War II, Bennett worked at the National Bureau of Standards, the University of Arkansas, and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. In 1961, he was appointed Burlington Professor of Physics at North Carolina State University (emeritus in 1976). Bennett made scientific history in the 1930s pioneering studies in plasma physics. These studies have been used throughout the world in controlled thermonuclear fusion research.

In the 1950s, Bennett's experimental tube called the Stormertron predicted and modeled the Van Allen radiation belts surrounding the earth six years before they were discovered by satellite. It also reproduced intricate impact patterns found on the earth's surface which explained many features of the polar aurora. The radio frequency mass spectrometer was developed in 1950. It was first launched into space on the Sputnik III to measure the masses of atoms. It was the only space instrument used by the Russians and credited to an American inventor in their own Russian-language publications.

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