Image from Apollo 11. Courtesy of NASA

Ithaca, N.Y. — A Cornell graduate and Ithaca resident whose research was crucial in allowing mankind to watch live video of Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon in 1969 has died, according to the university.

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Sternglass. Photo courtesy of the university

Ernest Sternglass was 91. He died of heart failure in Ithaca last week, according to the university.

Sternglass earned three degrees from Cornell: undergraduate (1944), master’s (1951), and doctor’s (1953).

Stergnlass’ correspondence with Albert Einstein “led to an electron amplification discovery that – two decades later – allowed hundreds of millions to watch live video of Apollo 11 astronauts walking on the moon,” according to the university.

Here’s the Cornell Chronicle’s Blaine Friedlander on Sternglass’ achievements:

Beyond the space program, his physics research led to safer X-ray equipment using digital imaging, which brings out greater detail than is possible with film, using computer image processing. These systems are now used by nearly every doctor and hospital.

As astronaut Neil Armstrong climbed down from the lunar module in July 1969 and walked on the moon, a television camera attached to the moon lander and made by Sternglass’s employer, Westinghouse, captured all the low-light lunar action.

Inside the video camera was a highly sensitive TV camera tube, originating from Sternglass’s research. Sternglass had concluded that he had observed a phenomenon that was different from Einstein’s photoelectric effect – for which Einstein won a Nobel Prize in 1921.

Sternglass first wrote to Einstein in 1947, according to the university, describing a new explanation for the “secondary electron emission” effect.

Image from Apollo 11. Courtesy of NASA

According to Friedlander, Einstein encouraged Sternglass’s idea and invited him to his home in Princeton.

Friedlander adds that Einstein wrote the following to Sternglass:

The Nobelist encouraged him to pursue his own ideas, writing: “Always keep a cobbler’s job where you can get up in the morning and face yourself that you are doing something useful. Nobody can be a genius and solve the problems of the world every day.”

Sternglass took Einstein’s advice and pursued advanced degrees at Cornell in applied physics.

Sternglass was born in Germany and fled Nazi Germany with his family in 1938.

His son, Daniel Sternglass — Cornell class of 1980 — lives in Ithaca. He also leaves behind a daughter,  Susan Sternglass Noble — Cornell class of 1982 — and four grandchildren.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.