James Van Allen, a native of Mount Pleasant, was introduced to geophysics research the summer after his freshman year under the tutelage of physics professor Thomas C. Poulter.

Van Allen majored in physics and, in June 1935, graduated summa cum laude. He went on to further study and became the physicist who made the first major scientific discovery of the early space age, that of the Earth-circling radiation belts that bear his name and sent spacecraft instruments to observe the outer reaches of the solar system, a discovery that impacted space travel holistically.  Without his discovery, we could not have placed a man or woman on the moon, allowed for space travel or have created the international space station.