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NAAPO (North American
AstroPhysical Observatory)

Dr. John D. Kraus
June 28, 1910 - July 18, 2004
(W8JK, Silent Key)
Photo of John Kraus

(In alphabetical order by last name)

Table of Contents
(Below are internal links (bookmarks) to each reminiscence.)

From: Phil and Esther Barnhart

I first came to Columbus in 1955. I took courses in the Astronomy Department while working as a Research Associate at the Research Foundation. My degree from Indiana was in Optical Astronomy, but one of the first courses at OSU I took was the first Radio Astronomy course, team taught by Geoff Keller and John Kraus.

John was extremely welcoming of both Esther and me. We fondly remember attending concerts in Mershon Auditorium with John and Alice. John was always concerned about what we were doing and took great interest in the research projects Walt Mitchell and I were engaged in.

We followed with great interest construction of Big Ear. John was always introducing us to guests at the observatory, among them R. A. Littleton, Grote Reber and many of the radio astronomers who came through to visit the telescope.

He took great delight in showing off the barn swallows that regularly set up housekeeping in their garage. He would move the cars out of the garage and open the windows for the colorful fliers.

John and Alice often entertained us at their house when visiting dignitaries would come to Columbus. Always cordial and warmly interested in our activities they opened their home willing to us.

We will sincerely miss their friendship and continue to feel honored to have been considered among their many friends.

Phil and Esther Barnhart

John Kraus, W8JK died a the age of 94 today.

Kraus, a creative thinker, made several significant contributions to the antenna world in general and Ham Radio in particular. A professor at Ohio State University, he also contributed significantly to radio astronomy.

Prior to his invention of the W8JK antenna in the mid 30s, it was commonly thought that to get more gain from an antenna it had to be made bigger and bigger. Kraus realized that by placing elements closer together and forcing a phase shift that gain could be realized from an antenna much smaller than conventional arrays at the time. This was not generally accepted thinking among the professional EE community at the time and he had difficulty publishing professionally, so he published it in Radio magazine, a forerunner to the present CQ magazine. The W8JK antenna was a popular antenna for many years, in many forms and derivatives, including the ZL special and W7EL's field day special.

Kraus invented the helix antenna after seeing the then new Traveling Wave Tube (TWT) amplifier demonstrated at an OSU seminar. The TWT uses a tightly wound helix to amplify by traveling waves of electrons. Kraus asked the lecturer if the helix radiated. The lecturer replied no, that the circumference was too small. Kraus realized that the larger helix might make an effective circularly polarized antenna. Kraus went home that evening and wound one with a larger circumference and the helix antenna was born. The helix antenna has been a main stay of the space community since its inception.

Kraus also invented the corner reflector antenna after realizing that the method of images could be implemented physically. It was a widely used antenna for UHF TV and point to point microwave transmission for many years.

Kraus also invented the Big Ear radio telescope at OSU after realizing that electrically steering an antenna was far simpler than moving giant dishes.

Kraus was the author of "Antennas", an excellent textbook on antennas. It is still in print, in the second edition, more than 50 years after its initial publication. He will be missed. - Dr. Megacycle KK6MC/5

James R. Duffey KK6MC/5

In the spring of 1967, I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan writing my Ph.D. dissertation. Unexpectedly, I received a phone call from Dr. John D. Kraus. He told me that he had an job opening at the Ohio State University Radio Observatory and he asked me if I was interested. Although I hadn't thought much about employment because I wanted to get my dissertation written and approved, I definitely was interested. He invited me down to Radio Observatory. We set a date and time. When I arrived I was given a tour of the "Big Ear" by John Kraus and Bob Dixon and later I talked to them about my dissertation (radio observations of planetary nebula using the University of Michigan's 85-foot dish). John then told me about the position, offerred it to me, and I accepted on the spot. The position was half-time teaching in the Department of Electrical Engineering of the Ohio State University (OSU) and the other half-time working at the OSU Radio Observatory as a member of the Ohio Sky Survey team which was surveying the entire sky visible to the "Big Ear". I began in the Fall of 1967.

Although I enjoyed teaching electrical engineering courses, I enjoyed even more working on the Ohio Sky Survey. While working on that survey, I wrote several computer programs and helped analyze the data coming from the radio telescope. John asked me to be the lead author on the publication of the results for the 4th installment (1970) and the 6th installment (1974) and included me also as a coauthor for the 5th installment (1971); John listed himself as the last coauthor for those installments. During the process of acquiring and analyzing the data, and then preparing an article for publication, I got to see firsthand how it is done. John was very knowledgeable about publishing papers. He had published about 120 of them at OSU by the time of the 4th installment. By paying attention to how John wrote a technical paper, that helped me later on whenever I was writing a technical document. Of course, John was also very knowledgeable about almost all aspects of acquiring and analyzing the data. When he didn't fully understand something at the beginning, he would ask someone immediately to explain it to him. It didn't take long for him to understand.

By using our data and the results obtained by other observatories, John discovered several sources with unusual spectra (strength vs. frequency). He led us in the discovery of many unusual objects, including the most distant object known in the universe at the time. Several times a team of us (including myself) went to other observatories to use their equipment to obtain measurements of more accurate positions and strengths at higher frequencies that could not be obtained with our "Big Ear". Those observations led to the optical identification of many of our radio sources. I was fascinated as John and the team would work together to find new results. John displayed his enthusiasm quite frequently as these results came out, which, in turn, caused a high level of enthusiasm by every member of the team who realized that they were making a significant contribution to the team and to the knowledge in the field of radio astronomy.

In addition to the good times listed above, I also had the good fortune to see how John Kraus handled a few bad times. Some of those bad times were: (1) failure of one of the winches on "Big Ear" causing a partial collapse of the flat reflector; (2) a land developer proposing a large housing development near the "Big Ear" that would cause radio frequency interference (RFI); (3) a proposal to install a tall TV tower and transmitter a few miles south of the "Big Ear" that would cause interference to our observations; (4) the publication of the magazine "Cosmic Search" for which only 13 issues were printed due to insufficient sales; and several more. By creative thinking, personal contacts, community support, and diplomacy, John handled each of those situations in an exceptional manner. These situations were each unique, but John provided great leadership in determining the best approach to solve each problem.

After the funding from the National Science Foundation was cut off (through no fault on John's part), the entire team had to eventually find new employment. However, many of us stayed on as part-time volunteers to continue operating the "Big Ear". Other volunteers joined us periodically, either for a short time or for a longer time. The electronics were modified to search for narrowband signals and the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intellligence (SETI) program was begun. This involved writing new computer programs, many of which I did or else contributed to. John Kraus encouraged us all along the way.

I had volunteered to look at the computer printouts that were being generated by our computer inferfaced with our narrowband receiver at the "Big Ear". Those printouts were being delivered to my home, typically once a week, by Gene Mikesell, our mechanical technician. In mid August 1977 I was looking over the data taken during the evening of Monday, August 15, 1977 when I saw the strongest narrowband signal I had ever seen on the computer printout. It didn't take me long to realize what the "Big Ear" had detected: it was a narrowband signal that increased then decreased in signal strength just as we would expect for a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization that was purposely trying to get our attention. I was so astonished that I wrote "Wow!" in red pen in the margin of the computer printout. After I finished analyzing the printout (I continued looking at the printout just in case there was another occurrence of that strong signal) I telephoned John Kraus and later Bob Dixon to tell them both of this signal. That started a fascinating process of looking at the printout, discussing what the signal could be or could not be, and then John and Bob looking up information about the planets, satellites, and other possible sources of the signal. John started calling this signal the "Wow!" signal, and I was very pleased at that choice of its name. John displayed a very strong curiosity about this event; again, it was fascinating for me both to be a part of this adventure and to watch John do various analyses, lead others in the discovery process, and publish the results.

I have been greatly influenced by John Kraus' books. His book "Big Ear" and the followup book "Big Ear Two" were very valuable reading for me. I have read "Big Ear Two" three times. It not only was an autobiography of John Kraus and was a very interesting and easy-to-read story, but it gave me considerable insight into how he made decisions and how he overcame roadblocks along the way. Also, I learned many details about the construction and operation of the "Big Ear" radio telescope itself and of the radio telescopes preceding the "Big Ear" at the Ohio State University. "Big Ear Two" is a book that can be enjoyed by the public, but scientists from every field can benefit from it as well.

I also read with interest "Our Cosmic Universe". This was clearly written for the public. I noticed how John was able to communicate some technical information at a level understandable to the public. That is sometimes difficult to do, but John did it well in this book.

He has written three textbooks, each in several editions: "Electromagnetics"; "Antennas"; and "Radio Astronomy". Many students have benefitted from these texts. I have studied each of those texts, sometimes studying successive editions. I had the good fortune for John to ask me to do critical proofreading of his last two revisions: "Electromagnetics, 5th edition"; and "Antennas, 3rd edition". I read each page of the proofs very carefully looking for either errors or else phrasing that I thought could be improved. Usually, I would write in red pen any errors or notations. Then typically I would call John (or, on occasion, his coauthor) and we would discuss what I found. John was receptive to my findings. He noted that some of the errors were not his fault, but rather errors made by the publisher's editors, and that was a frustration to him. I had to proofread relatively quickly due to the limited time given by the publisher's deadlines, and that was a frustration to me and to John as well. This experience was very valuable to me because I gained further insight in the material John was presenting. I was also able to see how he simplified complicated situations to obtain an easier and more useful formula, even though it might be an approximation (John was careful in describing when the approximation could be used). In general, John's textbooks have been best sellers because they contained useful and relevant information written in a way that undergraduate and graduate students could use.

John would periodically call me to either help him with his computer or to assist him in the preparation of a document he wanted to publish or otherwise distribute. Since I lived only two miles from his house, I would sometimes go there to help him with his problem (frequently his computer). We would chat about various topics, which I often found very interesting. Even towards the end of his life his mind remained sharp, although his mobility was deteriorating.

In conclusion, I will long remember John Kraus as a boss that I admired, and as a colleague, a mentor, and a good friend. I will miss him.

(Jerry Ehman)

John was an inspiration to me in the 1970's when I first took an interest in Radio Astronomy. Since that time, he has graciously supplied material for my book "Radio Astronomy Projects".

I think that the world has benefited significantly from his understanding of electromagnetic phenomena, especially as applied to the theory and design of antennas, and then from his sharing that understanding with others.

May his quest for understanding continue.

Father William Lonc, S.J., Ph.D. (Physics), VE1WPL
Saint Marys University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Even as a lowly 20-year-old undergraduate, I realized that I was incredibly fortunate to be in Dr. Kraus' entry-level electromagnetics courses at OSU. The fact that someone of Kraus' stature would still enjoy teaching at the undergrad level spoke volumes about his love of the subject and his dedication to the EE department's tradition of academic excellence.

At some point during our first quarter with Dr. Kraus ("EE511: Field Theory 1"), my good friend Bob Houf told me that he had talked to Dr. Bob Dixon about the need for some receiver hardware at "Big Ear" as part of the all-sky SETI survey that was in progress at the observatory. Dr. Kraus enthusiastically agreed to become our "undergraduate advisor" as we designed, built, tested, and installed a 50-channel synchronous detector that allowed the radiotelescope to detect narrowband signals such as those that Kraus and Dixon had theorized would be most likely to be intentionally transmitted by an extraterrestrial civilization. A few months after Bob and I graduated in 1977, the little box that we built for Dr. Kraus' Big Ear detected the "Wow Signal." Working with Dr. Kraus on this project was certainly the high point of my brief undergrad career at OSU, and I still cherish the opportunity that Kraus gave us to work on such a fascinating and important project.

There are many other memories I have of Dr. Kraus, such as the story he told the class about stepping briefly into the beam of a high-power military radar to allay the chill of a wet Maine winter storm. The last time I saw Dr. Kraus was in 1996, when I visited the campus during a trip to Ohio. I asked Gene Sapp if Professor Emeritus Kraus ever came to campus and he said, "I just saw him in the department office checking his mail slot. Go see if he's in his office in Caldwell." Dr. Kraus was facing away from the door when I knocked and when he turned around, he immediately said "Mike!" I was stunned that he remembered the lowly undergrad whom he had not seen in almost 20 years. We chatted for a half-hour or so, during which time he asked me several times to call him "John" and not "Dr. Kraus." I explained that I didn't think I could ever do that, which obviously amused him.

So with wet eyes I say, "TNX QSO JOHN ES VY 73. W8JK DE N6MZ SK"

Michael Mraz, N6MZ
Bellevue, WA

From: Douglas Wade Needham

While my personal interactions with Dr. Kraus were unfortunately limited and many, many years ago (e.g. 1984 and earlier), I personally think we are greatly in his debt for countless reasons. I know in the past several months, as I have been trying to brush up on my EM and antennas knowledge that I have not used much in 15 years, I have seen countless references to him in my textbooks. It seems like at least every other chapter had some citation or other reference to him. I have to wonder where we would be with amateur radio, radio astronomy, and countless other things we take for granted if it had not been for Dr. Kraus and his work!

- Doug

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Last modified: February 3, 2005