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Jean F. Piccard Autographs, Memorabilia & Collectibles

Born: January 28, 1884 in Basel, Switzerland
Died: January 28, 1963 in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Biography | show moreshow less
Jean Félix Piccard (28 January 1884 – 28 January 1963) was a Swiss-born American chemist, engineer, and high-altitude balloonist. Born in Basel, Switzerland, he was part of a renowned family of scientists and adventurers, with his twin brother Auguste Piccard also achieving fame as a physicist and balloonist.

Jean Piccard moved to the United States in the 1920s, where he pursued a career in both teaching and research. He earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1927 and subsequently held faculty positions at a number of American institutions, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Minnesota.

A major contribution of Piccard's was the development of high-altitude balloons made of plastic. Traditional rubber balloons were limited in their altitude because rubber becomes brittle in the extreme cold of the upper atmosphere. By using cellophane and later polyethylene, Piccard's balloons could reach much higher altitudes, paving the way for critical atmospheric and cosmic ray research. In 1934, Piccard, along with his wife Jeannette, who was an accomplished balloonist in her own right, piloted a balloon of his design to an altitude of 11 miles, conducting scientific experiments and setting a new altitude record. Piccard's innovative designs and methods were influential in both manned and unmanned balloon flights. His legacy is particularly evident in the field of space exploration; high-altitude balloons were precursors to modern space missions, offering scientists early insights into conditions in Earth's upper atmosphere.

Beyond ballooning, Piccard was also a pioneer in the development of hydrazine as a rocket propellant. His work in this area laid the groundwork for subsequent advances in rocket propulsion technologies.

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