Courtesy, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
BY LEO GOLDBERG AND LAWRENCE H. ALLER
DONALD H. MENZEL, one of the first practitioners of theoretical astrophysics in the United States, pioneered the application of quantum mechanics to astronomical spectroscopy. He was the first to establish the physical characteristics of the solar chromospheres and he initiated the modern era of investigations of physical processes in gaseous nebulae. Although primarily a theorist, he organized and conducted more than a dozen solar-eclipse expeditions and established two major solar observatories in the western United States. As a naval officer in World War II, he showed how solar observations could be used to anticipate large changes in conditions of long-distance radio wave propagation. He later played a leading role in establishing the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards. As director of the Harvard College Observatory from 1952 to 1966, he established one of the first university programs for research and instruction in radioastronomy and space astronomy. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1948.
The Menzel family was of German origin, his great grandfather, Johann Theodor Menzel, being a member of the