Leonard Reiffel
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Leonard Reiffel
Leonard Reiffel
Born(1927-09-30)September 30, 1927
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedApril 15, 2017(2017-04-15) (aged 89)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Alma materIllinois Institute of Technology
Known forDeputy director of Apollo program
Led Project A119
AwardsPeabody Award (1968)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago in Pisa
Illinois Institute of Technology

Leonard Reiffel (September 30, 1927 - April 15, 2017) was an American physicist, author and educator. Born in Chicago, Reiffel was an electrical engineering student for a number of years before entering into research fields. He collaborated with Enrico Fermi, Carl Sagan, and members of Operation Paperclip.

Reiffel also worked for NASA and the Illinois Institute of Technology, and won a Peabody Award for his work on the radio program The World Tomorrow. His experience with broadcasting led him to invent the telestrator as a visual aid for his programming; Reiffel held over fifty different patents for his inventions.

Early life

Leonard Reiffel was born in Chicago on September 30, 1927.[1] His father was Carl Reiffel, a silversmith credited with inventing a slide saxophone. His mother, the former Sophie Miller, was a district superintendent in the Chicago public school system.[2] The younger Reiffel attended Theodore Roosevelt High School, before earning a bachelor's and master's degree as well as a doctorate in electrical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology between 1947 and 1953.[3]


Universities and inventions

Reiffel began his career at the University of Chicago's Institute for Nuclear Studies, helping Enrico Fermi construct a 450-inch cyclotron.[4] From there, Reiffel returned to the university at which he had studied, the Illinois Institute of Technology. Here, Reiffel was Group Vice President of the IIT Research Institute (formerly known as the Armour Research Foundation). During his tenure at the university, Reiffel created and patented over fifty different inventions, which earned him four separate R&D 100 Awards.[4][5] Reiffel also collaborated with German scientists recruited in America as part of Operation Paperclip, working on an early prototype for a railgun.[3]


Reiffel was involved in several positions in NASA's Apollo program, moving from being a consultant on the possibility of life on the Moon[6] to become deputy director of the project,[7] a post he held from 1965-1969.[4] During this time, Reiffel was also put in charge of Project A119, a United States Air Force project intending to detonate a nuclear warhead on the Moon. Reiffel worked alongside Carl Sagan and Gerard Kuiper on the project.[8][9] Reiffel also chaired the Interagency Manned Space Flight Experiments Board for several years, a body which worked alongside NASA, the United States Air Force, and the United States Department of Defense.[4]


Reiffel's work on radio and television has included Backyard Safari, Dimensions on Tomorrow's Living and The World Tomorrow.[4]Backyard Safari was nominated for an Emmy Award,[4] whilst Reiffel was honored with a Peabody Award in 1968 for his work on The World Tomorrow.[6] Reiffel's time as a broadcaster led to him developing the telestrator, a device for drawing over still or moving video images; the device is now commonly employed by American football broadcasters while discussing plays.[3] Reiffel first used the telestrator as part of Backyard Safari before convincing WBBM-TV weatherman John Coughlin to use it as part of his forecasts; it was from there that sports anchor Johnny Morris introduced its use to sports broadcasting.[10]

Other work

Reiffel also worked as an artwork authenticator for the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, investigating the authenticity of work by Édouard Manet in 2002.[3] In 1979, he published the science fiction novel The Contaminant.[10] He also acted as a consultant to the governments of Belarus and Ukraine following the Chernobyl incident; this experience led him to write an unpublished second novel about nuclear terrorism.[3]


Reiffel died of complications from pancreatic cancer in Chicago on April 15, 2017. He was survived by his second wife Nancy Reiffel, and sons Evan and David.[10]


  1. ^ Kalte & Nemeh 2003, p. 122.
  2. ^ Sandomir, Richard (April 26, 2017). "Leonard Reiffel, Who Studied Potential of a Lunar Nuclear Bomb, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 27, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Johnsson, Julie (October 14, 2002). "From the moon to the end zone; This inventor helped run NASA, split atoms with Fermi, and even changed the way we watch football. And he's not done yet". Crain's Chicago Business. Retrieved 2012.[dead link](subscription required)
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Leonard Reiffel". American Institute of Physics. Archived from the original on August 21, 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  5. ^ "R&D Mag". R&D Magazine. Archived from the original on April 5, 2012. Retrieved 2011.
  6. ^ a b "The Peabody Awards | An International Competition for Electronic Media, honoring achievement in Television, Radio, Cable and the Web". Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Archived from the original on March 30, 2012. Retrieved 2011.
  7. ^ "About IIT | Hall of Fame | Leonard Reiffel". Illinois Institute of Technology. September 7, 2011. Archived from the original on January 18, 2011. Retrieved 2011.
  8. ^ Barnett, Antony (May 14, 2000). "US planned one big nuclear blast for mankind". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011.
  9. ^ Ulivi & Harland 2004, pp. 19-21.
  10. ^ a b c Goldsborough, Bob (April 20, 2017). "Leonard Reiffel, inventor of telestrator used to show NFL replays, dies at 89". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2017.


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