Scientist, Nobel Prize Winner. He is remembered for his many contributions to plasma physics, including theories describing the behavior of aurorae, the Van Allen radiation belts, the effect of magnetic storms on the Earth's magnetic field, the terrestrial magnetosphere, and the dynamics of plasmas in the Milky Way galaxy. He was born in Norrkoping, Sweden and received his Doctorate Degree from the University of Uppsala in 1934. The same year, he began teaching physics at both the University of Uppsala and the Nobel Institute for Physics (later renamed the Manne Siegbahn Institute of Physics in Stockholm, Sweden. Originally trained as an electrical power engineer, he later moved to research and teaching in the fields of plasma physics and electrical engineering. In 1940 he became Professor of Electromagnetic Theory and Electrical Measurements at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and in 1945 he acquired the non-appointive position of Chair of Electronics. His title was changed to Chair of Plasma Physics in 1963. From 1954 to 1955 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Maryland at College Park, Maryland. In 1967, after leaving Sweden and spending time in the Soviet Union, he moved to the US and worked in the departments of electrical engineering at both the University of California at San Diego and the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. His work was disputed for many years by the senior scientist in space physics, the British mathematician and geophysicist Sydney Chapman. His disagreements with Chapman stemmed in large part from problems with the peer review system and rarely benefited from the acceptance generally afforded senior scientists in prominent scientific journals. He was often regarded as a person with unorthodox opinions in the field by many physicists and was forced to publish his papers in lesser obscure journals. His theoretical work on field-aligned electric currents in the aurora (based on earlier work by Kristian Birkeland) was confirmed in 1967, which are now known as Birkeland currents. In 1970 he won the Nobel Prize on Physics for his work on magneto-hydrodynamics (MHD). He spoke 5 languages fluently (Swedish, English, German, French, and Russian), participated in a variety of social issues and worldwide disarmament movements, and was deeply concerned about the difficulties of permanent high-level radioactive waste management. Among his other awards include the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1967), the Franklin Medal of the Franklin Institute (1971), the Lomonosov Gold Medal of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1971), and the William Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union (1988). He was one of the few scientists who was a foreign member of both the US and Soviet Academies of Sciences. In 1991 he retired as Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of California, San Diego and Professor of Plasma Physics at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He died in Djursholm, Sweden at the age of 86. The Hannes Alfven Prize, awarded annually by the European Physical Society for outstanding contributions in plasma physics, is named after him. Alfven waves (low frequency hydro-magnetic plasma oscillations) and the asteroid '1778 Alfven' are named in his honor.
Bio by: William Bjornstad