Elected in 1979
“For contributions to the development of rocketry, combustion research, and the international literature in aeronautics and astronautics.”
BY YVONNE C. BRILL AND LEONARD H. CAVENY
MARTIN SUMMERFIELD, pioneer in rocket propulsion and combustion research who transformed the American Rocket Society into a leading professional organization and precursor of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, died in Hightstown, New Jersey, on July 18, 1996.
Martin Summerfield was born in Brooklyn on October 20, 1916. He graduated from Brooklyn College with a B.S. in physics at the age of 20. In 1936, the middle of the Great Depression, with no prospects for employment in science or technology, he immersed himself in the NYC neutral-accent speech-training program in hopes of qualifying as a teacher. An assistantship to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) involving optical physics laboratory work enabled him to extend both his studies and associations. Even then he had no illusions about gaining employment as a scientist after graduation. His associations with Professor Theodore von Kármán and the technological buildup accompanying World War II changed everything and immersed him into a lifelong whirlwind of activity.
He received an M.S. in 1937 and a Ph.D. in 1941, both in physics from the Caltech. He was Professor John Donavan Strong’s first Ph.D. student. Martin began his pioneering career in rocket research while he was a graduate student. In the 1940s he worked closely with Professor von Kármán on