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Sarah Unruh ’12

Distinguished Achievement awardee spent a career with NASA, space research

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – It’s not every Bethel College Distinguished Achievement Award winner who has a scientific effect named for him.

The 2013 winner, G. John Dick, Claremont, Calif., retired from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in 2008. Among his multiple areas of scientific interest are frequency standards, for which he predicted what is now known as the “Dick Effect.”

Dick – whom many of his classmates knew as “George” – graduated from Bethel in 1961 with majors in physics and mathematics. He earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1969.

During a subsequent postdoctoral research fellowship at Caltech, he developed the technology for a superconducting heavy ion accelerator, constructed at State University of New York, Stonybrook – with others later built at the University of Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratories and at Oxford University (since moved to Australian National University).

Dick joined the JPL, in Pasadena, Calif., in 1986 as a member of the technical staff, advancing to principal staff in 1997.

His projects with NASA included work for the Deep Space Network, which communicates with NASA’s deep space missions, including those to Mars and Saturn, and the Voyager, Galileo and Cassini missions that brought back photos of the moons and rings of the distant planets. He developed a cryogenic clock for the Cassini mission that uses a synthetic sapphire as the resonating element. He also served as project scientist for an experiment in the Low Temperature Microgravity Physics Facility, being built to take experiments in fundamental physics to the International Space Station.

Dick’s areas of expertise include solid state physics with an emphasis on metallic and superconducting conduction at RF and microwave frequencies; microwave and RF techniques; electromagnetic resonator and coupling design; multiple resonator systems; noise analysis; and the systematics of atomic frequency standards.

Dick has served as an invited speaker, session chairperson and tutorial presenter at various conferences. He has been published in Physical Review, Applied Physics Letters, Journal of Applied Physics and various IEEE journals. He holds eight U.S. patents. (IEEE, or I-Triple-E, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is a professional association devoted to advancing technological innovation and excellence.)

The “Dick Effect,” which Dick predicted, strongly impacts the design and performance of modern frequency standards. 

A “Special Issue on the Dick Effect” was published in July 1998 in IEEE Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferrofluidics and Frequency Control. In April 1999, Dick received Le Prix Européen “Temps Frequence” in Besançon, France, for “contributions in the fields of atomic frequency standards physics, of cryogenic oscillator technologies, and of low noise electronics and measurements systems.” This award is granted every two years by the Société Française des Microtechniques et de Chronométrie. 

In the ’90s, Dick received national and international media attention for development of the SpringWalker, a human-powered exoskeleton that has been featured on the PBS show Scientific American Frontiers. He remains an active researcher.

“In my dotage,” he says, “I’ve given myself leave to do some outside-the-box research – working up a web-based experiment to test an idea that quantum mechanics might be behind certain ESP phenomena. It undoubtedly won’t work, but I have to give it a try.” 

Which explains the URL of Dick’s research website, whosgotesp.com, where you can learn more about projects past and present.

The Bethel College Alumni Association presents the Distinguished Achievement Award to acknowledge character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation, and work of benefit to humanity.

Dick will receive the award and be honored along with other alumni award winners at the annual Alumni Banquet Saturday, May 18, at 6 p.m. in Memorial Hall on the Bethel College campus.

Price for the banquet is $20 per person if paying by May 3, $22 regular price May 6-8. To make a reservation, visit or phone Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, 316-284-5205. Payment or credit card information is required when the reservation is made. No refunds can be given after May 9, since after that Alumni Office will have been charged for reserved meals. 

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.