Memoir

Charles P. Bean

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

November 27, 1923 - September 30, 1996


Election Year: 1976
Scientific Discipline: Applied Physical Sciences
Membership Type: Member

Charles P. Bean was a physicist who did outstanding and influential research in a variety of fields, including magnetism, superconductivity, and biophysics. Much of Bean’s early research focused on magnetic hysteresis and coercivity in small magnetic particles, and his three contributions that had the greatest long-term impact on the field of magnetism were the “chain-of-spheres” model of magnetic reversal, the characterization of the phenomenon of exchange anisotropy, and the discovery of superparamagnetism.

The second area of solid-state physics in which Bean made substantial and well-recognized contributions was high-field superconductivity. Building on his experience with the magnetization curves of ferromagnetic materials, he developed a model that became (and remains) the standard model—commonly called “the Bean Model”—for describing the distribution of magnetic fields and electric currents within high-field superconductors. Bean also expanded his scientific interests beyond magnetism and superconductivity by studying biophysics. For example, while on sabbatical leave (from General Electric) at Rockefeller University, he was exposed to neurophysiology, conducted research in the field, and published related papers—such as on his theory of stimulation of myelinated fibers.

Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1923, Bean graduated from the University of Buffalo in 1947 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He then did graduate work in physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, from which he received his Ph.D. in 1952. His doctoral thesis on electrical conductivity in sodium chloride crystals introduced him to the rapidly growing field of solid-state physics, an interest he carried with him to the General Electric Research and Development Center (GE’s renowned laboratory) in Schenectady, New York, where he worked from 1951 to 1985. After a part-time adjunct relationship (while at GE) that began in 1978 with nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Bean joined the RPI faculty in 1985 as an Institute Professor and remained there for the rest of his career.

The importance of Bean’s early work at GE on magnetism and superconductivity prompted his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1977. The excellence of his teaching at RPI earned him the Klopsteg Memorial Award of the American Association of Physics Teachers in 1993. Having long worked for an industrial laboratory, he also held numerous patents.

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