April 18 , 2000


Brookhaven Lab Retirees Win Benjamin Franklin Medal For Their Invention of Magnetically Levitated Trains

UPTON, NY - James Powell and Gordon Danby, both retired researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, will be awarded the 2000 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Engineering by The Franklin Institute "for their invention of a novel repulsive magnetically-levitated train system using superconducting magnets and subsequent work in the field."

One of five Franklin medals awarded annually, the engineering medal will be presented to Powell and Danby on April 27, 2000, at an awards ceremony in the rotunda of the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia. The Franklin medal winners will also be involved in a series of lectures, symposia and informal discussions planned for the week of April 24.

In 1961, when he was delayed during rush hour on the Throgs Neck Bridge, Powell thought of using magnetically levitated transportation (Maglev) to solve the traffic problem. Powell and his friend Danby, in their spare time, jointly worked out a Maglev concept using static magnets, which are typically superconducting, mounted on a moving vehicle to induce electrodynamic lifting and stabilizing forces in specially shaped loops on a guideway. They obtained a patent on the technology in 1968.

In 1987, U.S. Senator Patrick Moynihan from New York chaired the U.S. Senate's Energy and Public Works Committee's Maglev Task Force, on which Powell and Danby served as co-chairmen. This initiative brought about renewed interest and some new funding from the federal government and some state governments for Maglev research.

Today, Powell and Danby are part of a consortium called "Maglev 2000," which plans to complete a half-mile Maglev test track in Titusville, Florida, by 2002. Eventually, the consortium plans to build a 20-mile Maglev track between the Kennedy Space Center in Port Canaveral and the Titusville Regional Airport. A separate Maglev project in Japan has demonstrated the electrodynamic concepts of Maglev and plans are underway to build a 300-mile track from Tokyo to Osaka.

Powell first came to Brookhaven Lab in the summer of 1952 to work as a research assistant, while he was an undergraduate student at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He received a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1953, and a Sc.D. in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958. He officially began his 40-year career at Brookhaven in 1956 as an assistant nuclear engineer, and he was eventually promoted to head of the Laboratory's Reactor Systems Division.

Powell's work was innovative and wide-ranging. He made contributions in such areas as advanced nuclear reactors, nuclear waste transmutation, ball lightning, fusion reactors, superconductivity, and space and defense systems. Powell retired from Brookhaven in 1996.

A native of Canada, Danby received a B.S. in physics and math from Carleton University in 1952, and a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from McGill University in 1956. He joined Brookhaven in 1957 as an assistant physicist, assisting in the final design and construction of the Laboratory's largest particle accelerator at the time, the Alternating Gradient Synchrotron. Danby was eventually promoted to senior physicist in 1980, and, in 1992, his outstanding contributions to accelerator physics and magnet technology were acknowledged by Brookhaven Lab's giving him its Distinguished Research & Development Award. Danby retired from Brookhaven in 1999.

In work unrelated to his mission at Brookhaven Lab, Danby's research in magnetic technology led to the open Magnetic Resonance Imaging machines. A Fellow of the American Physical Society, Danby was also honored with the New York Academy of Sciences Boris Pregel Award for Applied Science and Technology, in 1983.

Founded in 1894, The Franklin Institute awards medals annually in recognition of the recipients' genius and civic spirit and in memory of the Institute's namesake, Benjamin Franklin, who exhibited those same qualities. Some noted past recipients of the Franklin Institute medals include Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre and Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, Neils Bohr, Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. In the twentieth century, 91 Franklin Institute laureates have also been honored with 93 Nobel Prizes.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory creates and operates major facilities available to university, industrial and government personnel for basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences, and in selected energy technologies. The Laboratory is operated by Brookhaven Science Associates, a not-for -profit research management company, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.
* * *
NOTE TO LOCAL EDITORS: James Powell is a resident of Shoreham, New York; and Gordon Danby is a resident of Wading River, New York.

Last updated 5/28/99 by Public Affairs