Dunham, Jr, Theodore 1897 - 1984


(1897-1984), Physicist, Astronomer, Physician

Theodore Dunham, Jr was born on 17th December 1897 in New York City, Dunham’s interest in astronomy began early and by the age of 17 he had built an observatory on the grounds of his family’s cottage in Northeast Harbour, where his father practiced medicine in the summers. Throughout his career, he followed interests in medicine, physics and astronomy. He received an A.B. summa cum laude in 1921 from Harvard concentrating in chemistry. He received an M.D. from Cornell University in 1925 and an A.M. and Ph.D. in physics in 1926 and 1927 from Princeton University.

Dr. Dunham was a staff member of Mount Wilson Observatory from 1928 to 1947. In 1932, Dunham discovered that the atmosphere of Venus is principally composed of carbon dioxide. This conclusion was dramatically confirmed 35 years later in measurements transmitted from U. S. and Soviet spacecraft.

During World War II from 1942 to 1946, he was Chief of the Optical Instrument Section of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He then spent several years applying physical methods to medical research, until 1957. Afterwards, he joined the faculty of the Australian National University in Canberra, where he designed and installed a spectrograph at the Mount Stromlo Observatory for use with its 74-inch telescope in studying the composition of the stars of the Southern Hemisphere.

Dr. Dunham’s principal research activities included development of Coude spectrographs at Mount Wilson Observatory and at Mount Stromlo Observatory in Australia, introduction of the Schmidt camera in spectroscopy, studies of stellar atmospheres and interstellar material, studies of planetary atmospheres, development of photoelectric detectors for spectroscopy, and application of physical methods for research in medicine and surgery.

Dr. Dunham was Scientific Director of the Fund for Astrophysical Research from its founding in 1936 until his death in 1984. Dr. Dunham was the author of over 50 scientific articles and a member of many scientific organizations including the Royal Astronomical Society.