Table of Contents
1. Thomas Peyton Armstrong (TPA), 1941 – 2018
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Thomas Peyton Armstrong (TPA), 1941 – 2018
From: Jerry W. Manweiler (Manweiler at; Stamatios Krimigis (Tom.Krimigis at; Thomas E. Cravens (Cravens at, Louis J. Lanzerotti (Louis.J.Lanzerotti at, and Mona Kessel (Mona.Kessel at
Thomas P. Armstrong, a pioneer in magnetospheric physics, outer planet magnetospheres, and interplanetary physics, and a renowned expert in physics of interplanetary shocks, died peacefully in Lawrence, KS on June 2, 2018.
Tom attended elementary school at a one room country school, Shannon Hill, and graduated from Atchison High School, Atchison, KS, in 1958. He received a bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Kansas in 1962, and married Jeanette Fry shortly after graduation. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Iowa in 1964 and 1966, respectively. After postdoctoral appointments at the University of Iowa and Culham Laboratories in the United Kingdom, Tom joined the University of Kansas Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1968 as Assistant Professor, and continued his teaching and research career until retiring as Professor Emeritus in 2003. He subsequently continued his research full time at the company he co-founded in 1997, Fundamental Technologies, LLC.
Tom joined the Iowa group of space physics pioneer J. A. Van Allen in 1962 and soon became immersed in design work on novel instruments with other students of that era (R. W. Fillius, S. M. Krimigis, T. A. Fritz, others), a requirement for aspiring experimenters in the early years of the space program. He helped in the implementation with S. M. Krimigis of the solid-state detector system for Mariners 3&4, the first missions to Mars, , and then took the lead in the follow-on design of the Iowa instruments for the moon, Explorers 33&35. He also analyzed data from the INJUN 3 spacecraft for his M.S. thesis and then proceeded to work with Prof. D. Montgomery for his PhD on numerical studies of the Vlasov equation and the two-stream instability.
Tom was equally at home with both experimental work and analyses on energetic particles in the magnetosphere and interplanetary space, and in theoretical plasma physics in both space and in the laboratory. He led the observational effort and subsequent analysis of the first-ever observed acceleration of protons in association with an interplanetary shock in 1967, and became the principal modeler of the shock-drift acceleration mechanism through a large number of publications with his graduate students (e. g., R. Decker, 1979; M. Kessel, 1986; J. Giacalone, 1991; to name just a few). At the same time, he continued his work in the design of novel instrumentation, most notably among these being the Low Energy Charged Particle (LECP) instruments on Voyagers 1 & 2, launched in 1977 and still operating flawlessly to this day.
Overall, Tom had a prolific research career spanning the gamut of magnetospheric, interplanetary, and interstellar experimental physics. His primary focus was on space physics, with heavy involvement in NASA unmanned space flight projects ranging from the INJUN 3, 4 and 5 satellites, Mariner 4 Mars and Mariner 5 Venus missions of the 1970s to the Saturn Cassini mission in 1997. He was an instrument Co-Investigator with the Voyager, Galileo, and Ulysses missions to the outer planets and high latitude heliosphere, as well as an instrument Co-Investigator on the IMP 7/8 (Explorer 47/50), ISTP Geotail, ACE, and Van Allen Probes series of Earth orbiting spacecraft. Tom published over 200 articles in referred journals as well as being a contributor to numerous books and symposia. He served the community as Chief of the Magnetospheric Physics Branch at NASA Headquarters (1989-1990).
Tom’s contributions to space plasma physics, however, were not limited to instrument design, theory, and data analyses. He was an expert in computational systems and programming, and invariably led his instrument teams’ efforts in data system design and in organizing the analyses of the data. As a result of his foresight and efforts, data visibility for many of the missions was an effective tool in quickly understanding both instrument performance and the novel phenomena observed for the first time in new environments, such as traversing a planetary magnetosphere and in the very high latitude heliosphere. His design and assembling of the Data Handbook for the HISCALE instrument on the Ulysses mission established a benchmark for instrument description detail and data availability long before “open data” became in vogue. This, and handbooks for previous and subsequent instruments on other missions, have facilitated wide analyses of the unique data from these instruments. These qualities, i.e. understanding the science, the instrument design, the idiosyncrasies of flight systems and their interactions, and the physical insight in interpreting the data in the correct context, rarely reside in one individual.
Tom received many distinguished awards throughout his career including: NASA Group Achievement Award for Voyager, Higuchi Research Award of the University of Kansas which included a $10,000 honorarium, European Space Agency Certificate of Recognition for the Ulysses Mission, NASA Group Achievement Award for Ulysses, NASA Group Achievement Award for Geotail, NASA Group Achievement Award for Cassini, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Award for Outstanding Research Paper when Voyager 1 exited the Heliosphere, Certificate of Appreciation for Sustained Service as a Member of the Voyager Science Team, and many others.
A festschrift, a volume contributed by colleagues and admirers as a tribute, was assembled by Tom Armstrong’s PhD students and published by the University of Kansas. His students considered themselves fortunate to have learned their craft under his guidance and dedicated this volume to him for his 50th birthday. At that date, Tom had already shepherded 20 PhD students through his lab, room 55 in Malott Hall at the University of Kansas Department of Physics and Astronomy. There were many more students to come. The festschrift also included a “fun” section of posters and pictures that were exhibited in room 55, and which were a testament to TPA’s enduring patience and gentle demeanor. His students invariably referred to him by his initials alone – TPA – the mark of a man who earned respect not by his titles, but by his character. In 2003 over 60 of TPA’s former students and colleagues attended the “Armstrong Symposium” which was held at the University of Kansas on the occasion of his retirement.
Tom contributed to the University of Kansas in many capacities including developing and running the first computing facility on campus. He worked with other researchers on the SPANet connecting national laboratories and universities that provided for easy sharing of space physics data and allowed for easier communication of analysis results via the new (at the time) Email protocols. Tom contributed to the development of many of the underlying TCP/IP communication protocols that define our current Internet.
Tom was a devoted advisor and mentor, furthering the careers of countless young scientists, including arranging for some to spend time in an industrial laboratory. He oversaw more than 50 published master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. These scientists work around the globe and many themselves have added significant contributions to knowledge of space physics and continue to contribute to science and industry. Tom Armstrong was one of those “most amazing” individuals and his departure has left a huge void and a big loss to the science community.
Although his scientific career occupied most of his energies, Tom was a man of many talents and interests. He served as President of the Lawrence Aquahawks Swim Team when his children were competing and helped coach his son’s football team. He enjoyed his involvement in the Big Blue Sportsman Club, the University of Kansas Discussion Club, and the Faculty of the 1960s Club. Growing up on a farm, he learned how to repair just about everything, and enjoyed woodworking and building, including a house.
Tom is survived by his wife, Jeanette Armstrong; children, Elizabeth Armstrong, Ann Arbor, MI, and Stuart Armstrong (Amanda), Lawrence, KS; a sister, Jean Ober (John), Sunrise Beach, MO; grandchildren Jolie Armstrong, Ryan Armstrong, Chelsey Bowers, and Paige Bowers, all of Lawrence, KS, and Aaron Stryker, Ann Arbor, MI; and great-grandchild, Tanner Hall, Lawrence, KS. Tom is also survived by numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins, as both of Tom’s parents had eight siblings, from whom flowed more than forty cousins. He is preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Paul Armstrong, Atchison, KS.
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