Peter A. Sturrock

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Peter Andrew Sturrock (born 1924) is a British-American scientist. Much of his career has been devoted to astrophysics, plasma physics, and solar physics, but Sturrock is interrested in other fields, including ufology, scientific inference and in the history of science and philosophy of science. Sturrock has been awarded many prizes and honors: the annual prize of the Gravity Foundation (1967), the Hale Prize of the American Astronomical Society (1986), the Arctowski Medal of the National Academy of Sciences (1990), and the Space Science Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (1992). He has written or co-authored many scientific articles and textbooks.

Sturrock began his education studying mathematics at Cambridge University in 1942. During and after World War 2, Sturrock postponed his Cambridge studies in order to help develop radar systems at the Telecommunications Research Establishment, now the Royal Radar Establishment.

After the war, Sturrock resumed his education, and was awarded a scholarship at St John's College in 1947, followed by the University Rayleigh Prize for mathematics in 1949. Sturrock was elected to a fellowship at St John's in 1952. He then pursued work on electron physics at the Cavendish Laboratory, followed by stints at Cambridge, the National Bureau of Standards, and the Ecole Normale Superieure at the University of Paris.

In 1951, Sturrock earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics. In the 1950's Sturrock researched nuclear physics at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment; plasma physics at St. Johns' College, Cambridge; microwave tubes at Stanford University; accelerator physics at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN). Also in the 1950's, Sturrock invented a number of implements, including a novel microwave tube later dubbed the "free-electron laser."

In 1961, Sturrock was appointed a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, where he remained until 1998; he is currently an emeritus professor of physics and applied physics at Stanford. From 1992 to 1998, Sturrock was director of the Center for Space Science and Astrophysics, and from 1981 to 2001 was President of the Society for Scientific Exploration. Sturrock has also served as Chairman of the Plasma Physics Division and the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society.

Interest in UFOs

Sturrock has been a prominent contemporary scientist to express a keen interest in the subject of unidentified flying objects or UFOs.

Sturrock's interest traces back to the early 1970s when Ufologist and astronomer Jacques Vallee encouraged Sturrock to read the Condon Report on UFOs. Sturrock commented that, "The upshot of this was that, far from supporting Condon's conclusions [that there was nothing extraordinary about UFOs], I thought the evidence presented in the report suggested that something was going on that needed study." [1]

At about the same time that the Condon Committee was conducting its investigation, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 1967 had set up a subcommittee to bring the UFO phenomenon to the attention of serious scientists. In 1970 this subcommittee published a position paper also highly critical of how the Condon Committee had conducted its investigation and how Condon’s written conclusions didn’t match the cases detailed in the final report. Overall, the AIAA deemed about a third of the cases still unsolved. Unlike Condon, they felt these unsolved cases represented the essential core of the UFO problem and deserving of further scientific scrutiny. [2]

Sturrock was curious what the general attitudes of the members of the AIAA might be and in 1973 surveyed the San Francisco branch of the AIAA, with 423 out of 1175 members responding. Opinions were widespread as to whether UFOs were a scientifically significant problem. Most seemed unsure or neutral on the question. Sturrock was also curious as to whether fellow scientists like the AIAA members ever reported seeing UFOs, i.e., anomalous aerial phenomena that they couldn’t identify. The survey indicated that about 5% had, which is typical for what is usually reported for the general population as a whole. [3]

In 1975, Sturrock did a more comprehensive survey of members of the American Astronomical Society. Of some 2600 questionnaires, over 1300 were returned. Only two members offered to wave anonymity, and Sturrock noted that the subject was obviously a very sensitive one for most colleagues. Nonetheless, Sturrock found a strong majority favored continued scientific studies, and over 80% offered to help if they could. Sturrock commented that the AAS members seemed more open to the question than the AIAA members in his previous survey. As in the AIAA survey, about 5% reported puzzling sightings, but skepticism against the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis (ETH) ran high. Most thought that UFO reports could ultimately be explained conventionally. Sturrock also found that skepticism and opposition to further study was correlated with lack of knowledge and study: only 29% of those who had spent less than an hour reading about the subject favored further study versus 68% who had spent over 300 hours. survey summary

Noting that many scientists wished to see UFOs discussed in scientific journals (and at the same time, an almost complete absence of such articles in journals) Sturrock helped establish the Society for Scientific Exploration in 1982 to give a scientific forum to subjects that are neglected by the mainstream.

In 1998, Sturrock organized a scientific panel to review various types of physical evidence associated with UFOs. The panel felt that existing physical evidence that might support the ETH was inconclusive but also deemed extremely puzzling UFO cases worthy of further scientific study. [4] Sturrock subsequently wrote up the work of the panel in a book The UFO Enigma: A New Review of the Physical Evidence.