Historical records matching Harry Petschek, Ph.D.
About Harry E Petschek, Ph.D.
At the age of 25, Harry Petschek had won acclaim for his doctoral thesis "Approach to equilibrium ionization behind strong shock waves in argon." He later applied his research to developing re-entry heat shields for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, who were responding to the USSR's 1957 launch of the first man-made orbiting satellite, Sputnik. In 1964, Petschek began research on magnetic reconnection and developed Petschek's Theory, which proved that when magnetic fields in space convert to kinetic energy upon meeting the earth's magnetic field, space particles infused with energy from the transformation create the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights.
Turning his attention away from the celestial, Petschek directed the development of the intra-aorta balloon, a device that eases pressure on the heart's main artery and assists in treating heart failure. The instrument remains in use today. He later developed a bedside infusion pump and an instrument for extracting DNA from biological samples. Four years ago, he was hospitalised for quadruple bypass surgery. Petschek was thrilled to find the clinic where he was being treated still using the bedside infusion pump he created
Dr. Petschek was born in Prague on September 12, 1930 and came to the US with his family in 1938 to escape the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. He studied engineering physics at Cornell and today he is often referred to as "the father of magnetic reconnection" for groundbreaking theoretical work he did in 1964.
Harry worked for 25 years at the Avco Everett Research Laboratory, a defense and aerospace laboratory. During his tenure there he was involved in the physics of reentry from space. Among other work at Avco, he was involved with magneto-hydrodynamic power generation and the study of laboratory and space plasma physics. He was prominently involved in resolving the question of how magnetic energy could be transformed to kinetic energy as rapidly as it had been observed on the sun and throughout space.
Throughout his professional life he looked for ways that science could make important social contributions. As Vice President and later President of Avco, Harry used his technical resources and his expertise in fluid dynamics to study blood clotting. In the late 1960's he collaborated with three colleagues in creating the intra-aorta balloon, a device for treating heart failure that has been used by millions of patients around the world and remains in common use today. Harry contributed his extensive knowledge of aerodynamics and physics to this and other humanitarian medical ventures.
While staying on the cutting edge of science he was also at the heart of social change in the 1960's. His contributions to the civil rights movement are documented in the Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Common Ground", which describes Harry's masterminding of the first racial discrimination test case in Lexington. That test case eventually led to the first civil rights demonstration on historic Lexington Green.
After leaving Avco, he founded two companies, OmniFlow and Autogen, which were both eventually acquired. At OmniFlow he led the development of a more versatile hospital bedside infusion pump that is used widely in hospitals today. At Autogen, he developed an automated device for extracting DNA from biological samples.
In the mid-1990's, Harry joined Boston University's Center for Space Physics as a Research Fellow. Despite being officially in retirement, Harry once again became an active member of the international space science community, a return to his scientific roots and passion. While at BU, he published scientific papers on the emerging field of space weather, on nano-satellite mission designs, and on the theory of magnetic reconnection.
Dr. Petschek is survived by his wife, Mary, two daughters, two sons, two stepchildren, and 11 grandchildren.