Hannes Alfvén

Infobox Scientist
name = Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén

imagesize = 180px
birth_date = birth date|1908|5|30|mf=y
birth_place = Norrköping,Sweden
death_date = death date and age|1995|4|2|1908|5|30
death_place = Djursholm, Sweden
field = Plasma physics
alma_mater = University of Uppsala
doctoral_students =
work_institution = University of Uppsala
Nobel Institute for Physics
Royal Institute of Technology
University of California, San Diego
University of Southern California
known_for = magnetohydrodynamics
prizes = nowrap|Nobel Prize in Physics (1970)

Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén (May 30, 1908; Norrköping,
Sweden – April 2, 1995; Djursholm, Sweden) was a Swedish plasma physicist and Nobel laureate for his work on the theory of magnetohydrodynamics. He was originally trained as an electrical power engineer and later moved to research and teaching in the fields of plasma physics. Alfvén made many contributions to plasma physics, including theories describing the behavior of aurorae, the Van Allen radiation belts, the effect of magnetic storms on the Earth's magnetic field, the terrestrial magnetosphere, and the dynamics of plasmas in the Milky Way galaxy.


In 1937, Alfvén argued that if plasma pervaded the universe, it could then carry electric currents capable of generating a galactic magnetic field. [Hannes Alfvén, 1937 "Cosmic Radiation as an Intra-galactic Phenomenon", "Ark. f. mat., astr. o. fys." 25B, no. 29.] After winning the Nobel Prize for his works in magnetohydrodynamics, he emphasized that:

In order to understand the phenomena in a certain plasma region, it is necessary to map not only the magnetic but also the electric field and the electric currents. Space is filled with a network of currents which transfer energy and momentum over large or very large distances. The currents often pinch to filamentary or surface currents. The latter are likely to give space, as also interstellar and intergalactic space, a cellular structure. [Hannes Alfvén, " [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=1990ITPS...18....5A&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=42ca922c9c32555 Cosmology in the Plasma Universe: An Introductory Exposition] " (1990) "IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science" (ISSN 0093-3813), vol. 18, Feb. 1990, p. 5-10]
His theoretical work on field-aligned electric currents in the aurora (based on earlier work by Kristian Birkeland) was confirmed by satellite observations, in 1974, resulting in the discovery of Birkeland currents.


Alfvén received his PhD from the University of Uppsala in 1934. His thesis was titled "Investigations of the Ultra-short Electromagnetic Waves."

Early years

In 1934, Alfvén taught physics at both the University of Uppsala and the Nobel Institute for Physics in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1940, he became professor of electromagnetic theory and electrical measurements at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. In 1945, he acquired the nonappointive position of Chair of Electronics. His title was changed to Chair of Plasma Physics in 1963. In 1954-1955, Alfvén was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 1967, after leaving Sweden and spending time in the Soviet Union, he moved to the United States. Alfvén worked in the departments of electrical engineering at both the University of California, San Diego and the University of Southern California.

Alfvén considered himself an electrical engineer foremost. During his scientific career, prior to winning the Nobel Prize, Alfvén was not generally recognized as a leading innovator in the scientific community (though they were using his work). He enjoyed the assertion that he was guilty of a fault or offence by the entry into areas not previously explored in astrophysics leveled by other cosmologists and theoreticians.Fact|date=February 2007

Research, awards, and contributions

Alfvén's work was disputed for many years by the senior scientist in space physics, the British-American geophysicist Sydney Chapman. Alfvén's disagreements with Chapman stemmed in large part from trouble with the peer review system. Alfvén rarely benefited from the acceptance generally afforded senior scientists in scientific journals. He once submitted a paper on the theory of magnetic storms and auroras to the American journal Terrestrial Magnetism and Atmospheric Electricity and his paper was rejected on the ground that it did not agree with the theoretical calculations of conventional physics of the time. He was regarded as a person with unorthodox opinions in the field by many physicists, [David J. Miller, Michel Hersen, " [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0471520683&id=sw9QeD-bvJgC&pg=PA10&lpg=PA10&dq=renegade+Nobel+Prize+winner+physicist+Hannes+Alfven&sig=1LCbXz0A1UVdjmiSdmAvcK327RM Research Fraud in the Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences] " 1992. They describe the "renegade Nobel Prize winner physicist Hannes Alfvén"] R. H. Stuewer noting that "... he remained an embittered outsider, winning little respect from other scientists even after he received the Nobel Prize..." [RH Stuewer, " [http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=qg36424630186274 Book Reviews] " (2006) "Physics in Perspective" Volume 8, No 1, March 2006, pp.104-112 Springer.] and was often forced to publish his papers in obscure journals. Alfvén recalled:

When I describe the [plasma phenomena] according to this formulism most referees do not understand what I say and turn down my papers. With the referee system which rules US science today, this means that my papers are rarely accepted by the leading US journals. [Hannes Alfvén, "Memoirs of a Dissident Scientist", "American Scientist", May-June 1988, pp.249-251. Quoted in Joseph Paul Martino, " [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN1560000333&id=UdQBSffyTTwC&pg=PA131&lpg=PA131&vq=alfven&dq=alfven+unorthodox&sig=gkvPNCpUc_kwNu7hJW3jhVpNHTc Science Funding: Politics and Porkbarrel] " 1992, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 1-56000-03303]

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1970 for his work with magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). In 1988, Alfvén was awarded the Bowie medal by the American Geophysical Union for his work on comets and plasmas in the solar system.


Alfvén was also awarded:

* Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1967)
* Gold Medal of the Franklin Institute (1971)
* Lomonosov Gold Medal of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1971)


* Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
* Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences
* Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (life fellow)
* European Physical Society
* American Academy of Arts and Sciences
* Yugoslav Academy of Sciences
* Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs
* International Academy of Science

Alfvén was one of the few scientists who was a foreign member of both the United States and Soviet Academies of Sciences.


Alfvén played a central role in the development of:

* Plasma physics
* Charged particle beams
* Interplanetary physics
* Magnetospheric physics
* Magnetohydrodynamics
* investigation (such as the solar wind)
* Aurorae science

In 1939, Alfvén proposed the theory of magnetic storms and auroras and the theory of plasma dynamics in the earth's magnetosphere.

Applications of Alfvén's research in space science include:

* Van Allen radiation belt theory
* Reduction of the Earth's magnetic field during magnetic storms
* Magnetosphere (protective plasma covering the earth)
* Formation of comet tails
* Formation of the solar system
* Dynamics of plasmas in the galaxy
* Fundamental nature of the universe

Alfvén's views followed those of the founder of magnetospheric physics, Kristian Birkeland. At the end of the nineteenth century, Birkeland proposed (backed by extensive data) that electric currents flowing down along the earth's magnetic fields into the atmosphere caused the aurora and polar magnetic disturbances.

Areas of technology benefiting from Alfvén's contributions include:

* Particle beam accelerators
* Controlled thermonuclear fusion
* Hypersonic flight
* Rocket propulsion
* Reentry braking of space vehicles

Contributions to astrophysics:

* Galactic magnetic field (1937)
* Identified nonthermal synchrotron radiation from astronomical sources (1950)

Alfvén waves (low frequency hydromagnetic plasma oscillations) are named in his honor. Many of his theories about the solar system were verified as late as the 1980s through external measurements of cometary and planetary magnetospheres. But Alfvén himself noted that astrophysical textbooks poorly represented known plasma phenomena:

A study of how a number of the most used textbooks in astrophysics treat important concepts such as double layers, critical velocity, pinch effects, and circuits is made. It is found that students using these textbooks remain essentially ignorant of even the existence of these concepts, despite the fact that some of them have been well known for half a century (e.g, double layers, Langmuir, 1929; pinch effect, Bennet, 1934). [Hannes Alfvén, " [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=1986ITPS...14..779A&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=42ca922c9c02197 Double layers and circuits in astrophysics] " (1986) "IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science" (ISSN 0093-3813), vol. PS-14, Dec. 1986, p. 779-793.]
Alfvén reported that of 17 of the most used textbooks on astrophysics, none mention the pinch effect, none mentioned critical ionization velocity, only two mentioned circuits, and three mentioned double layers.

Alfvén's cosmological model

Alfvén believed the problem with the Big Bang was that astrophysicists tried to extrapolate the origin of the universe from mathematical theories developed on the blackboard, rather than starting from known observable phenomena. He also considered the Big Bang to be a scientific myth devised to explain creation. [ Hannes Alfvén, Cosmology—Myth or Science? "J Astrophysics and Astronomy", vol. 5, pp. 79-98, (1984).]

Alfvén and colleagues proposed the Alfvén-Klein model as an alternative cosmological theory to both the Big Bang and steady state theory cosmologies.

Later years

In 1991, Alfvén retired as professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, San Diego and professor of plasma physics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Alfvén spent his adult life alternating between California and Sweden. He died at the age of 86.

The asteroid 1778 Alfvén was named in his honour.

Personal life

Alfvén had a good sense of humor, and he participated in a variety of social issues and worldwide disarmament movements. He had a long-standing distrust of computers. Alfvén studied the history of science, oriental philosophy, and religion. He spoke Swedish, English, German, French, and Russian, and some Spanish and Chinese. The relationship between Hans-Jürgen Treder and Hannes Alfvén and his own has been discussed by Wilfried Schröder in detail. Topics are problems in cosmology, Alfvén was also interested in all aspects of auroral physics and has been used Schröder's well known book on aurora (Das Phänomen des Polarlichts) because he was fluent in German. Letters of Alfvén, Treder, and Schröder have been published in Festschrift Hans-Jürgen Treder on the occasion of his 70th birthday (Bremen: Science Edition). A long paper on changes in auroral theories has been published by Wilfried Schröder in honor of Hannes Alfvén's 80th birthday (Gerlands Beiträge zur Geophysik, 1988).

Alfvén was married for 67 years to his wife Kirsten. They raised five children, one boy and four girls. His son became a physician, while one daughter became a writer and another a lawyer in Sweden. The composer Hugo Alfvén was Hannes Alfvén's uncle.


[http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-abs_connect?db_key=AST&sim_query=YES&aut_xct=NO&aut_req=YES&aut_logic=OR&obj_logic=OR&author=Alfv%C3%A9n%2C+H.&object=&start_mon=&start_year=&end_mon=&end_year=&ttl_logic=OR&title=&txt_logic=AND&text=&nr_to_return=100&start_nr=1&jou_pick=ALL&ref_stems=&data_and=NO&article=YES&gif_link=YES&group_and=ALL&start_entry_day=&start_entry_mon=&start_entry_year=&end_entry_day=&end_entry_mon=&end_entry_year=&min_score=&sort=SCORE&data_type=SHORT&aut_syn=YES&ttl_syn=YES&txt_syn=YES&aut_wt=1.0&obj_wt=1.0&ttl_wt=0.3&txt_wt=3.0&aut_wgt=YES&obj_wgt=YES&ttl_wgt=YES&txt_wgt=YES&ttl_sco=YES&txt_sco=YES&version=1 Full List]
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1950coel.book.....A Cosmical Electrodynamics] , International Series of Monographs on Physics, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950. (See also 2nd Ed. 1963, co-authored with Carl-Gunne Fälthammar)
*Worlds-Antiworlds: Antimatter in Cosmology (1966)
*The Great Computer: A Vision (1968) (a political-scientific satire under the pen name Olof Johannesson; publ. Gollancz, ISBN 05750-0059-7)
*Atom, Man, and the Universe: A Long Chain of Complications (1969)
*Living on the Third Planet (1972).
* [http://www.springer.com/west/home/physics?SGWID=4-10100-22-33598597-0 Cosmic Plasma] , Astrophysics and Space Science Library, Vol. 82 (1981) Springer Verlag. ISBN 90-277-1151-8


External links

* [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1970/ Hannes Alfvén at the Nobel Foundation] , inc. Biography, Nobel lecture and Banquet speech
* [http://public.lanl.gov/alp/plasma/people/alfven.html Hannes Alfvén biography] (Los Alamos)
* [http://www.alfvenlab.kth.se/hannes.html Hannes Alfvén biography] (Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden)
* [http://www.aps-pub.com/proceedings/1504/150412.pdf Hannes Alfvén Biographical Memoirs] (Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society)
* [http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/testing/html/mss0225a.html Papers of Hannes Olof Gosta Alfvén]
* [http://www.copernicus.org/EGU/egs/award6n.htm Hannes Alfvén Medal] - awarded for outstanding scientific contributions towards the understanding of plasma processes in the solar system and other cosmical plasma environments
* Timeline of Nobel Prize Winners: [http://www.nobel-winners.com/Physics/hannes_olof_gosta_alfven.html Hannes Olof Gosta Alfvén]
* [http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/testing/html/mss0225a.html Hannes Alfvén Papers] (1945 - 1991) in the Mandeville Special Collections Library.
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu//full/seri/QJRAS/0037//0000259.000.html QJRAS Obituary 37 (1996) 259]
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=1942StoAn..14....2A&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=42ca922c9c23043 On the cosmogony of the solar system I] (1942) | [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=1942StoAn..14....5A&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=42ca922c9c23043 Part II] | [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=1942StoAn..14....9A&db_key=AST&data_type=HTML&format=&high=42ca922c9c23043 Part III]
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1958IAUS....6..284A&db_key=AST&link_type=ABSTRACT&high=42ca922c9c23043 Interplanetary Magnetic Field] (1958)
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1961ApJ...133.1049A&db_key=AST&link_type=ABSTRACT&high=42ca922c9c23043 On the Origin of Cosmic Magnetic Fields] (1961)
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1963IAUS...16...35A&db_key=AST&link_type=ABSTRACT&high=42ca922c9c23043 On the Filamentary Structure of the Solar Corona] (1963)
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1967SoPh....1..220A&db_key=AST&link_type=ABSTRACT&high=42ca922c9c23043 Currents in the Solar Atmosphere and a Theory of Solar Flares] (1967)
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1967SSRv....7..140A&db_key=AST&link_type=ABSTRACT&high=42ca922c9c23043 On the Importance of Electric Fields in the Magnetosphere and Interplanetary Space] (1967)
* [http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-data_query?bibcode=1970Ap%26SS...6..161A&db_key=AST&link_type=ABSTRACT&high=42ca922c9c23043 Jet Streams in Space] (1970)
* [http://history.nasa.gov/SP-345/contents.htm Evolution of the Solar System] (1976) with Gustaf Arrhenius (NASA book)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1978Ap%26SS..54..279A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Double radio sources and the new approach to cosmical plasma physics] (1978) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1978Ap%26SS..55..487A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Interstellar clouds and the formation of stars] with Per Carlqvist (1978) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1980Ap%26SS..71..203C&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Energy source of the solar wind] with Per Carlqvist (1980) (PDF) A direct transfer of energy from photospheric activity to the solar wind by means of electric currents is discussed.
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1981LPI....12...10A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Electromagnetic Effects and the Structure of the Saturnian Rings] (1981) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1981Ap%26SS..76...35W&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf A three-ring circuit model of the magnetosphere] with Whipple, E. C. and Jr.; McIlwain (1981) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1981Ap%26SS..79..491A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf The Voyager 1/Saturn encounter and the cosmogonic shadow effect] (1981) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1983acm..proc..193A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Origin, evolution and present structure of the asteroid region] (1983) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1983Ap%26SS..89..313A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf On hierarchical cosmology] (1983) (PDF) Progress in lab studies of plasmas and on their methods of transferring the results to cosmic conditions.
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1983Ap%26SS..97...79A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Solar system history as recorded in the Saturnian ring structure] (1983) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1984JApA....5...79A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Cosmology - Myth or science?] (1984) (PDF)
* [http://articles.adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-iarticle_query?1984SSRv...39...65A&data_type=PDF_HIGH&type=PRINTER&filetype=.pdf Cosmogony as an extrapolation of magnetospheric research] (1984) (PDF)
* [http://www.geocities.com/bibhasde/Alfven100.html Hannes Alfvén Birth Centennial 30 May 2008] (2008)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Hannes Alfven — Hannes Alfvén. Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén (* 30. Mai 1908 in Norrköping; † 2. April 1995 in Djursholm) war ein schwedischer Physiker. Er erhielt 1970 den Physik Nobelpreis für „seine grundlegenden Leistungen und Entdeckungen in der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hannes Alfven — Hannes Alfvén Hannes Alfvén Naissance 30 mai 1908 Norrköping (Suède) Décès 2 avril 1995 Djursholm (Suède) Nationalité Suédoise Champs Astrophysique, Physique des plasmas …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Hannes Alfvén — Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén (Aussprache: [ˌhanːəs alˈveːn], * 30. Mai 1908 in Norrköping; † 2. April 1995 in Djursholm) war ein schwedischer Physiker. Er erhielt 1970 den Physik Nobelpreis für „seine grundlegenden Leistungen und Entdec …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hannes Alfvén — Naissance 30 mai 1908 Norrköping (Suède) Décès 2 avril 1995 Djursholm (Suède) Nationalité Suédoise Champs Astrophysique, Physique des plasmas Institution Université d Uppsala Nobel Institute for Physics Kung …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Hannes Alfvén — en 1942 Nacimiento …   Wikipedia Español

  • Physiknobelpreis 1970: Hannes Alfvén — Louis Néel —   Der Schwede Alfvén wurde ausgezeichnet für seine Arbeiten in der Magnetohydrodynamik, der Franzose Néel für die Beiträge zum Ferromagnetismus.    Biografien   Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén, * Norrköping (Schweden) 30. 5. 1908, ✝ Djursholm (bei …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén — Hannes Alfvén. Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén (* 30. Mai 1908 in Norrköping; † 2. April 1995 in Djursholm) war ein schwedischer Physiker. Er erhielt 1970 den Physik Nobelpreis für „seine grundlegenden Leistungen und Entdeckungen in der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Hannes Olof Gösta Alfvén — Hannes Alfvén Hannes Alfvén Naissance 30 mai 1908 Norrköping (Suède) Décès 2 avril 1995 Djursholm (Suède) Nationalité Suédoise Champs Astrophysique, Physique des plasmas …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Alfvén — may refer to: People * Hannes Alfvén (1908 1995) – a Swedish plasma physicist and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate * Hugo Alfvén (1872 1960) – a Swedish composer, conductor, violinist, and painter * Marie Triepcke Krøyer Alfvén (1867 1940),… …   Wikipedia

  • ALFVÉN (HANNES) — ALFVÉN HANNES (1908 1995) Astrophysicien suédois. Attaché à l’Institut royal de technologie de Stockholm à partir de la fin des années 1930, Alfvén reçoit un poste à l’université de Californie (San Diego) en 1967, à la suite de désaccords avec le …   Encyclopédie Universelle

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.