George Freier, a retired University of Minnesota physics professor who was as well known for his avuncular demeanor as his studies of lightning, rain, snowflakes, and other weather-related phenomena, died Friday, May 13, in St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul, after a brief illness. He was 90 and had been living in the St. Anthony Park area of St. Paul.
Freier grew up on a farm near Ellsworth, Wisconsin, and graduated from River Falls State Teachers College in Wisconsin in 1938. After receiving his degree he taught science and mathematics in White Lake, Wisconsin, for three years. He received a master of arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1941 and worked in the Naval Ordnance Laboratory from 1942 to 1944. Freier received a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University in 1949 but switched to atmospheric physics 10 years later. He joined the University’s physics faculty as an assistant professor in 1949 and became a full professor in 1958, retiring in 1985.
Freier studied the meteorology and physics of large thunderstorms, especially the electrical aspects. He developed a theory of rain formation in which radioactive atoms played a role in nucleation of water to form droplets. He took an interest in weather lore and frequently answered reporters’ questions about the validity of weather proverbs; he also wrote a book about weather proverbs.
He was honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award from River Falls State University and a Distinguished Service Citation from the American Association of Physics Teachers for his service to undergraduate education. In 2002 the University of Minnesota named a room in its Tate Laboratory of Physics the George D. Freier Lecture Demonstration Facility in recognition of his work.
Memorials are preferred to the St. Anthony Park Block Nurse Program, 2200 Hillside Avenue, St. Paul 55108.