(Died: September 21, 2002)
Interests: Gravitation, Radiation Age: 70
Robert Lull Forward was an American physicist and science fiction writer. His fiction is noted for its scientific credibility, and uses many ideas developed during his work as an aerospace engineer. He earned his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1965, with a thesis entitled Detectors for Dynamic Gravitational Fields, for the development of a bar antenna for the detection of gravitational radiation.
He then went to work at the research labs of Hughes Aircraft, where he continued his research on gravity measurement and received 18 patents. He took early retirement in 1987, to focus on his fiction writing and consulting for such clients as NASA and the U.S. Air Force. In 1994, he co-founded the company Tethers Unlimited, Inc. with Robert P. Hoyt, where he served as Chief Scientist and Chairman until 2002.
In addition to more than 200 papers and articles, he published 11 novels. His treatment of hard-science topics in fictional form is highly reminiscent of the work of Hal Clement. He described his first novel, Dragon's Egg, as "a textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel." His novel Rocheworld describes a double-planet system with a single shared atmosphere and ocean. Forward co-authored two Rocheworld novels with his wife, Martha Dodson Forward, and two additional Rocheworld novels with his second daughter Julie Fuller. Forward also helped Larry Niven calculate the parameters of the Smoke Ring for his novel The Integral Trees.
Forward's son, Bob Forward, has led a successful career as a storyboard artist and writer in television animation, including in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Legend of Zelda, the Animated Series, and most famously, Beast Wars. He is also the author of two novels, The Owl and The Owl 2: Scarlet Serenade. Forward's oldest daughter, Mary Lois Mattlin, is a teacher and homemaker. Forward's youngest, Eve Forward, has written two novels: Villains by Necessity and Animist. In 2001, Forward received a diagnosis of terminal cancer which gave him enough time remaining to make his farewells and settle any unfinished projects. He died on September 21, 2002.
Much of his research focused on the leading edges of speculative physics but was always grounded in what he believed humans could accomplish. He worked on such projects as space tethers and space fountains, solar sails (including Starwisp), antimatter propulsion, and other spacecraft propulsion technologies, and did further research on more esoteric possibilities such as time travel and negative matter. He was issued a patent for the statite, and contributed to a concept to drain the Van Allen Belts.
Forward's extensive work in the field of gravitational radiation detection included the invention of the rotating cruciform gravity gradiometer or 'Forward Mass Detector', for Lunar Mascon (mass concentration) measurements. Misner, Wheeler & Thorne (Gravitation ISBN 0-7167-0344-0) point out that it can detect the curvature of spacetime produced by a fist. The principle behind it is quite simple - getting the implementation right is tricky. Essentially, two beams are crossed over and connected with an axle through their crossing point. They are held at right angles to each other by springs. They have heavy masses at the ends of the beams, and the whole assembly spun around the common axle at high speed. The angle between the beams is measured continuously, and if it varies with a period half that of the rotation period, it means that the detector is experiencing a measurable gravitational field gradient. - Wikipedia
- "Extracting Electrical Energy from the Vacuum by Cohesion of Charged Foliated Conductors," Physical Review B, V30, N4, pp. 1700 (Aug 1984).