Jesse Beams

Jesse Wakefield Beams (December 25, 1898[1] in Belle Plaine, Kansas[2] July 23, 1977[3]) was an American physicist at the University of Virginia.

Jesse Wakefield Beams
BornDecember 25, 1898
DiedJuly 23, 1977 (1977-07-24) (aged 78)
ResidenceCharlottesville, Virginia
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Virginia, University of Wisconsin
Known forDevelopment of the ultracentrifuge
AwardsHoward N. Potts Medal (1942)
National Medal of Science (1967)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Virginia
Doctoral advisorCarroll M. Sparrow
Notable studentsFrank Hereford
Edward P. Ney


Beams completed his undergraduate B.A. in physics at Fairmount College in 1921 and his master's degree the next year at the University of Wisconsin.[2] He spent most of his academic career at the University of Virginia, where he received his Ph.D. in physics in 1925. He spent the next three years in a physics fellowship at Yale University, where he performed research on the photoelectric effect with Ernest Lawrence.[4] Beams was appointed a professor of physics at the University of Virginia in 1929 and was chair of the department from 1948 to 1962.[5] During World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project, where his ultracentrifuge was used to demonstrate the separation of the uranium isotope U-235 from other isotopes. Officials in charge of the atomic bomb project concluded, however, that Beams's centrifuges were not as likely as other methods to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb in the time available, and the centrifuge program was abandoned. After World War II, centrifuge separation of uranium isotopes was perfected by German scientists and engineers working in the Soviet Union. In 1953 Beams was appointed the Francis H. Smith Professor of Physics at the University of Virginia. Beams was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1967 for his work on the ultracentrifuge.[6] He retired from the University in 1969.[7]

Beams' contributions include the first linear electron accelerator, the magnetic ultracentrifuge, and the application of the ultracentrifuge to the separation of isotopes and to the separation of viruses from liquids. He held many patents in magnetic bearings and ultracentrifuges. In addition to the National Science Medal, he was awarded the American Physical Society's John Scott Medal, the Lewis Prize of the American Philosophical Society, and the University of Virginia's first annual Thomas Jefferson Award.[8]

He is buried at the University of Virginia Cemetery.[9]


Inventor(s) Year Patent No. Invention Title
Trotter, Woodstock, Beams 1935 U.S. Patent 2,016,825 Air Conditioning
Beams, Holmes 1941 U.S. Patent 2,256,937 Suspension of Rotatable Bodies
Masket, Snoddy, Beams 1949 U.S. Patent 2,478,663 Projectile Testing Machine
Beams 1950 U.S. Patent 2,521,112 Method and Apparatus for Separating Fluids by Thermal Diffusion
Beams 1950 U.S. Patent 2,521,891 Valve
Beams, Snoddy, Hoxton 1950 U.S. Patent 2,525,197 Thermal Flowmeter
Beams, Morton 1954 U.S. Patent 2,666,363 Transmission Line Kerr Cell
Beams 1954 U.S. Patent 2,691,306 Magnetically Supported Rotating Bodies
Beams, Snoddy 1956 U.S. Patent 2,763,155 High Altitude Burner Simulator
Beams, Snoddy 1960 U.S. Patent 2,948,572 Centrifuges
Beams 1962 U.S. Patent 3,041,482 Apparatus for Rotating Freely Suspended Bodies
Beams 1962 U.S. Patent 3,066,849 High Vacuum Pump System
Beams 1965 U.S. Patent 3,196,694 Magnetic Suspension System
Goss, Porter, Roberts, Tuve, Beams, Selvidge 1975 U.S. Patent 3,908,933 Guided Missile


  • Beams, J. and Haynes, F., The Separation of Isotopes by Centrifuging, (Sept 1936) Phys. Rev., vol. 50, Issue 5, pp. 491–492.
  • Beams, J., Production and Use of High Centrifugal Fields, (1954) Science, vol. 120, Issue 3121, pp. 619–625.

See also


  1. Annual report - National Academy of Sciences. 1979. p. 42.
  2. The University of Virginia Record: New Series, Vol. X. Charlottesville: University of Virginia. 1924-02-15. p. 52.
  3. Fowle, Farnsworth (1977-07-25). "Jesse W. Beams, 78, A Top Physicist, Dies". New York Times. p. 18.
  4. "Beams and Lawrence". Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  5. Physics at the University of Virginia – Jesse W. Beams 1898 – 1977
  6. Dabney, Virginius (1981). Mr. Jefferson's University: A History. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. p. 463. ISBN 0-8139-0904-X.
  7. "Beams Honored By Special Symposium". Cavalier Daily. 1969-05-20. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20.
  8. Dabney, p. 377.
  9. "Jesse W. Beams (1898 - 1977) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 2017-04-08.
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