Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999): An American Fusion Physicist of Dutch Descent in Venezuela

Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999), co-recipient of the 1999 Edward Teller Medal for his contributions to the development of fusion science, graduated from Brookings High School, South Dakota, in 1962, earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from South Dakota State University in 1966, and later went on to the University of Colorado-Boulder where he earned his doctorate in Physics in 1975.

Positive bonds between countries are made through trade (the exchange of goods) as well as by immigration (the exchange and interaction of people with their knowledge, worldviews, and ideas). After finishing his doctorate degree, Larry Foreman came to live in Venezuela to teach physics at UNET, then a newly-formed university in the Venezuelan Andes.

What kind of fellow was this physicist whose epitaph taken from Bob Dylan’s song “Mr. Tambourine Man” reads: “And Dance Beneath A Diamond Sky With One Hand Waving Free”?

His Foreman surname was an anglicized version of the original Fokkema surname of his Dutch (Frisian) ancestors. We invite you to read about the ancestry, science, and life of Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999). We will learn about his ancestors, his education, his knowledge crossing borders, fusion physics, and the saga of immigrants from Europe, the United States, and Venezuela.

This life story presents the movement of people from the Netherlands and, in particular, from its northern province of Friesland, to the farmlands of Iowa – the home of the immigrants in 19th century America – to Larry Foreman leaving the Midwest for the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Boulder, Colorado to San Cristóbal, in the mountainous hills of the Venezuelan Andes, to the Pajarito Plateau in north-central New Mexico, where Los Alamos National Laboratory is located.

We invite you to follow our attempts to sketch the life of this “tambourine” physicist and of his Dutch farmer ancestors as well.

After the awardees were formally announced, fusion physicist Larry Ray Foreman, because he was too ill to attend the formal award event, received in a private ceremony the American Nuclear Society Edward Teller Medal for his contributions to the development of inertial fusion science due to his innovative work in target fabrication.

Inertial confinement fusion (ICF) is an approach to fusion energy research where physicists attempt to initiate nuclear fusion reactions by heating and compressing a fuel target, typically in the form of a pellet that most often contains a mixture of two substances: deuterium (a hydrogen atom with one neutron in its nucleus) and tritium (a hydrogen atom with two neutrons in its nucleus). Target fabrication can be considered, both, a science and an art.

VES Project presents one more story based on the digital fragments it has uncovered and recovered – a veritable sort of digital archeology – using the connectivity that the Internet, with its search engines and social networks, makes possible.

This essay, however, is only a sketch or a first approximation to the life of Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999).

This work is divided as follows:


(1) Introduction
(2) “Nobody Emigrates Without a Promise!” The Ancestry and Origins of Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999) 

  • Larry Ray Foreman Genealogy
  • Historical Background to Nineteenth-Century Dutch Immigration to North America
  • The Origins of Larry Ray Foreman


(3) The Education and Professional Career of Larry Ray Foreman

  • Brookings High School
  • Studying Engineering Physics at SDSU
  • Larry Ray Foreman, from the University of Colorado, Boulder to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
  • Larry Ray Foreman in San Cristóbal, Venezuela
  • His Own Family
  • Guessing Larry Ray Foreman’s Reasons for Coming to Venezuela

(4) The Physics of Larry Ray Foreman

  • What Kind of Physics Did He Favor?
  • The Edward Teller Medal
  • The Larry Foreman Award
  • Larry Foreman and Low-Temperature Research
  • The Publications and Patents of Larry Ray Foreman

(5) In Lieu of a Conclusion
(6) Acknowledgments

Now, again, you are invited to come along and discover with us a story of immigration and science. 

Support for VES Project

VES Project is a Venezuelan independent research initiative with no other source of funding except for the support it receives from its readers and people sympathetic toward the project’s aims and objectives. Because living conditions in Venezuela have become very difficult and harsh, your support is now more needed than ever to help us continue doing more research and writing.

If you wish to support VES Project, you can use PayPal to make a donation by clicking the DONATE button below. Your help will be highly appreciated. Thanks!


VES Project
José Álvarez-Cornett
(@chegoyo in Twitter)
August 13th, 2018

Larry Ray Foreman Header Picture

Dedicated to:

Carlos Elio Mora (Ph.D), a dear friend, 
and a steadfast supporter of  VES Project.
This research initiative is alive,
in great part, due to his unceasing support.
Thank you, amigo!

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory of fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me.

From Bob Dylan’s song “Mr. Tambourine Man”
(composed in February 1964, sang in July 1964,
at the Newport Folk Festival, and recorded on
January 15, 1965).

A message to myself: “Sweet are the uses of adversity.”
W. Shakespeare (As You Like It, 1599).




(1) Introduction

The story of the American experimental physicist Larry Ray Foreman coming to work in Venezuela, in the mid-seventies, is part of a much larger narrative. In 2013, I started an independent research initiative called VES Project to study and write the saga of the migration of scientists and engineers into and out of Venezuela.

Once upon a time, a country named Venezuela — “the fastest expanding nation in the world. Boasting of the greatest growth of any country since World War II” — was considered a land of fortune for many would-be immigrants. A detailed account of this growth was partly told by Alfred P. Jankus and Neil M. Malloy in Venezuela: Land of Opportunity (Pageant Press, 1956).

American historian and long-time Venezuelan resident, Susan Berglund has pointed out that, between 1948 and 1961, about 800,000 foreigners entered Venezuela, but not all of them remained as the national census of 1961 listed only 526,188. A tiny fraction of these immigrants were scientists and engineers. Some stayed for only a few years, while others settled down and acquired Venezuelan nationality. All these scientists were instrumental in the creation of a scientific culture in Venezuela. They helped to build many of Venezuela’s scientific and technological institutions and trained several generations of Venezuelan scientists, engineers, and technologists.

This immigration of skilled professionals were predominantly of European origin (the majority coming from Spain, but also from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the former USSR) and, also, from a few South American countries (mainly from Argentina and Chile, as well as from Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia). But, in addition, within this group of skilled immigrants, there was a handful of scientists from Asia (India, Pakistan, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan), and from the United States.

The small group of American scientists in Venezuela, as well as their long term collaboration with local scientists, has barely been studied. To name but a few, we have, for instance, the case of the American educator, George Isidore Sánchez (1906–1972) (born in Albuquerque, New Mexico – he was the University of Texas, Austin, first professor of Latin American Studies, and also served as chair of the Department of History and Philosophy) who, in 1937, was an advisor to the Venezuelan government and, for one year, directed the Instituto Pedagógico Nacional (IPN) (a teacher training college) in Caracas; the example of George William Hill (1900-?) who, in 1953, created and directed the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), and developed cooperation mechanisms between UCV and the University of Wisconsin; and in the mid sixties, there was a faculty exchange program, called the KUUDO plan, between the University of Kansas and the Universidad de Oriente (UDO), Cumaná, Venezuela, that brought many American mathematicians, physicists, biologists, and chemists to Venezuela to teach and help organize the, then newly created, UDO’s School of Science (see  KUUDO Testimonials).

Other examples are the case of Professor Cecil Ray Monk (1902-1995), the former director of the School of Biology at UCV (1948 -1950); in the late 1940’s, there is the case of the American botanists and Exxon (Creole Petroleum) employees in Venezuela, Robert Haydn Tschudy (1908-1986) and John S. Penny (1914-2005), who, during the afternoons, taught Biology courses ad-honorem at UCV; as well as the case of paleontologist Frances Charlton (1904-1976?)— in 1927, she was working as a micro paleontologist for Pure Oil Company in Arkansas when she got transferred to Maracaibo, Venezuela to work for Orinoco Oil Company (a subsidiary of Pure Oil) and, a few years later, she decided to stay in the country becoming Professor of Geology at UCV; and, among few others, like Cuban-American theoretical physicist Robert Berezdivin (Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, specialized in general relativity, who, by the way, was my freshman physics teacher), and the main subject of this article, experimental physicist Dr. Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999). From February 1975 to March 1977, Larry Foreman was the first chairman of the Physics Department at Universidad Nacional Experimental del Táchira (UNET; in English, National Experimental University of Táchira), in San Cristóbal, Venezuela.

In order to research and tell the life stories of these migrant scientists and engineers in Venezuela, I started VES Project (Proyecto VES, in Spanish). VES is an acronym with a double meaning. When referring to the immigration into Venezuela of scientists and engineers, it means: Vinieron, Educaron y Sembraron (they Came, Taught and Sowed) and, when it deals with the ongoing emigration of Venezuelan STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) professionals, VES means: Viajaron, Emigraron y Surgieron (they Voyaged, Emigrated and Succeeded).

The emigration of Venezuelan STEM professionals is yet another side of this larger story. Because in the early eighties the Venezuelan economy changed for the worst with its currency experimenting a steep devaluation, and, more recently since the late nineties, because political conditions in Venezuela have changed drastically with the country progressively becoming in the 21st century more authoritarian and, later on, undemocratic and less tolerant, the inflow of qualified immigrants diminished sharply and a hitherto unheard of outflow of Venezuelans to other countries begun.

In the US, for example, according to a Pew Research report (2013), “Venezuelans are the 13th-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States, accounting for 0.5% of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2011 (259,000 people).” However, this Venezuelan emigration is different. It is highly educated. “Venezuelans have higher levels of education than the Hispanic population overall and the U.S. population overall. Half (51%) of Venezuelans ages 25 and older—compared with 13% of all U.S. Hispanics and 29% among the U.S. population—have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree.”

In 2014, some studies estimated the emigration of Venezuelans to other countries to be between one and a half million to two million people. But, as living conditions in the country deteriorated, this enlightened emigration turned into a massive refugee crisis. A late-2017 survey found that over 4 million Venezuelans had left the country.

Many among these highly educated Venezuelan emigrants are STEM professionals who have met with uncommon success. Representative of this successful emigration are individuals like the current MIT president, Venezuelan-American electrical engineer, Rafael Reif; the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science at the University of Toronto, Venezuelan Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Cristina Amon; or computer scientist Professor Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, since 2011, the 19th president of Keuka College (New York). They were initially trained in Venezuela by the European and South American immigrant scientists and engineers who came to Venezuela between 1936-1980.

And there are many more Hispanic physical scientists of Venezuelan origins pursuing academic work in the United States. People like

Ignacio Rodríguez-Iturbe , a world-famous hydrologist, winner of the 2002 Stockholm Water Prize and member of the United States National Academy of Sciences (2010), who is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Princeton University;

Mayly Sánchez, a Venezuelan physicist who is Associate Professor of Physics at Iowa State University — she was recognized by President Obama for her contributions to the experimental research of the physics of neutrinos with the 2011 PECASE (Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers);

Vladimir Alvarado, a physics graduate from Central University of Venezuela and the University of Minnesota (PhD, 1996, in Chemical Engineering), Associate Professor of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering at the University of Wyoming, who was awarded the 2015 Spanish Heritage Award;

Humberto Campins, an international expert on asteroids and comets (he discovered water ice and organic molecules on the asteroids 24 Themis and 65 Cybele, and he has an asteroid, 3327 Campins, named after him) who is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Central Florida, and a member of NASA OSIRIS-REx project (the spacecraft in route to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu will bring back to Earth two ounces of the asteroid material in 2023);

Franco Nori, a theoretical condensed matter physicist who is graduated in Physics from Universidad Simón Bolívar, Venezuela, and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign — he is an expert in nanoscience, atomic physics, quantum optics, and quantum information processing who is a Fellow of the Optical Society of America and Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan as well as a Director of the Quantum Condensed Matter Research Group at RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science (CEMS), in Saitama, Japan; and, among others,

Jean C. Pérez, Assistant Professor of Physics and Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology (B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Physics from Central University of Venezuela; Ph.D, The University of Texas at Austin) — he is a researcher in nonlinear dynamics and turbulence in plasma, presently at the Department of Physics and Space Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology.

For more examples, see  Exporting Talent: VES Project and the STEM emigration from Venezuela.

It has been established that from 1960 up to 2014, 1,783 Venezuelan researchers have left the country (Requena and Caputo, 2016). They represent 14% of the total research community of the country, being responsible for the production of 31% of all the scientific publications produced from Venezuela.

VES Project aims to tell this other side of the Venezuelan STEM migration story as well.

Digital Historical Sounding (DHS)

To end this introduction, allow me to say a few words about the research methodology used in the VES Project. This initiative began with the idea of using the Web and social media networks to make the profiles of a group of immigrant physicists — the founders of the Department of Physics at the Faculty of Science of Central University of Venezuela (UCV) — whose life stories were unknown.

After completing a few of these profiles, it became clear that a methodology for using the Internet as an aid to historical research had been created. This methodology was given the name of Digital Historical Sounding (DHS). It produces digital fragments (texts, audios, videos, and pictures) about the subject of our inquiry (an individual, group of people or an institution). However, because not all information about a person or an institution can be gathered through the Internet, and due to the fact that not all sources are trustworthy sometimes there are omissions, errors or misrepresentations can be introduced in the profiles (even though great care is taken to validate and verify each digital fragment, occasionally this is not possible).

Therefore, DHS has some obvious limitations as it can only produce rough sketches of the people being profiled. However, this is a valid approach when nothing or very little is known about the person or institution being studied. In such cases, the profiles thus made using DHS can serve as input materials to other researchers more prone to look into physical archives. In other words, if the information about a person has not been digitized or if it cannot be elicited from social media networks, DHS will not see it. Additionally, since DHS deals with the gathering of information, profiling of people and institutions through Internet, this methodology can also be applied in journalism and in business contexts for competitive intelligence purposes (for more details, see Digital Historical Sounding and the VES Project).

Support for VES Project

VES Project is a Venezuelan independent research initiative with no other source of funding except for the support it receives from its readers and people sympathetic toward the project’s aims and objectives. Because there are no guarantees of obtaining prompt responses when securing information from social media networks and eliciting online replies from sources with which we have not had prior contact, DHS works best (is more efficient) when many case studies are handled in parallel. VES Project is currently studying about one hundred and ten cases and it has already produced thirty studies of the Venezuelan STEM migration.

VES Project periodically needs funding to continue researching and writing the life stories of the Venezuelan STEM migration. Present living conditions in Venezuela have become very difficult and harsh, therefore, your support today is more needed than ever to help us continue doing more research and writing.

If you wish to support VES Project, you can use PayPal to make a donation by clicking the DONATE button below. Thanks!

Larry Ray Foreman (1944-1999)

Larry Ray Foreman in 1966. Source: The Jack Rabbit Yearbook, 1966.

Now, let us move on to our present story. Let’s together find out who was Larry Ray Foreman and why did he come to Venezuela? What kind of physicist was he? What did he accomplish after leaving Venezuela?

(2) “Nobody emigrates without a promise!” The ancestry and origins of Larry Ray Foreman

Larry Ray Foreman, the eldest son of two university teachers, was an experimental physicist of Dutch (Friesland) ancestry. The original Dutch surname was Fokkema which was anglicized in spelling to Foreman when Larry Ray’s great grandfather, Jacob M. Foreman (1855 /56 – 1941), the son of Mink Ernsts Fokkema (1798-1873) and Dieuwke Rintjes Westra (1818-1896), emigrated to America in 1882 to become one of the 7,941 Dutch nationals living in the State of Iowa in 1890. Mink Ernsts Fokkema was born on February 16th, 1798 in Menaldum, Menaldumadeel (in English, Menaam, and Menameradiel), Friesland, and Dieuwke Rintjes Westra was born on August 4th, 1818 in Dongjum, Franekeradeel, Friesland, Netherlands.

Railroad companies that owned land in Iowa hoped to attract both immigrants and easterners to the state. They offered special travel fares to those who would buy land. Source: Wikipedia

Throughout the 19th century, Iowa was considered as a home for would-be immigrants (see Iowa: The Home of Immigrants). In this state of the Union, the Dutch were “historically important because they constituted the first large body of foreigners to enter the new state,” in the month of August 1847. They were the founders of the city of Pella (1847), in Marion County, and, one generation later, of Orange City (1870), in Sioux County.

They [the Dutch immigrants] were ultra-Protestants of the Calvinistic faith. They were Separatists. They were sturdy men and women who had been left over from the days of the Dutch Republic which had boasted of its religious toleration and freedom. The readjustments in Europe after the Napoleonic wars had imposed upon them kings whom they did not like politically and an established church which they abhorred spiritually. Their persistent non-conformity brought them under governmental disfavor. Their meetings were prohibited, except in small companies, and for disobedience many of them had suffered arrests, so far had the spirit of freedom declined in a land to which the Pilgrims had fled for refuge. …. Finding the conditions in their home land intolerable, thousands fled from it, the majority of them to America (Cyrenus Cole, in A History of the People of Iowa, 1921, p. 228).

Source: The Goldfinch (Vol 3, No. 3, November 1981), page 2


In 1885, the total population of Iowa was 1,753,980 people (and 2,058,069 in 1895). The periodical, The Goldfinch (Vol 3, No. 3, November 1981) lists the total number of immigrants in Iowa as 261,650 (1880) and 324,069 (1890), out of which 4,743 (1880) and 7,941(1890) were Dutch nationals. The majority of immigrants in Iowa, however, were Germans and Scandinavians.

Mass emigration from the Netherlands to the United States catches the eye more for being relatively late and little than for its spectacular nature. (Krabbendam, 2011). According to Robert Swierenga, less than 300,000 Netherlanders emigrated overseas from 1820 to 1920, and ninety percent of all Dutch overseas emigrants before the mid-1890s settled in the United States.

Roughly, we are talking about an emigration movement to the United States of about 250.000 people. “According to the 2000 census, over 5 million people in the United States claim Dutch ancestry” (Douma, 2011). Had he been alive, Larry Ray Foreman would have been counted among those Americans of Dutch ancestry.

Dutch immigration formed a unique ethnic group in the United State. The peak of Dutch America, before the slow Americanization of Dutch immigrants, was from 1900 to 1920.

In the United States, Dutch immigrants have historically been called several names: Dutch, Netherlanders, Hollanders, Dutch-Americans, Dutch Americans, ‘Americans from Holland’, and ‘Nederlanders in Amerika’ (Douma, 2011).


Map of the Netherlands

Larry Ray Foreman Genealogy

Now,  if we look up the genealogical tree of Larry Ray Foreman for four generations, we can notice something interesting: most of his ancestors come from the Dutch province of Friesland, and one ancestor line (Lubbers) comes from the neighboring province of Drenthe. These two provinces are located in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, and, as we can see on the map, Friesland and Drenthe share a common border. The other interesting fact worth noting is that all marriages were made within the Dutch-American ethnic group.

Larry Foreman Family Tree.


Friesland is mainly an agricultural province with excellent sea clay soils. It is different from the other Dutch provinces because it has its own language (West Frisian) and culture (including a flag and a national anthem). Frisian is the language most closely related to English.

Four localities in Friesland are associated with the ancestry of Larry Ray Foreman: the island of Terschelling, the small historical city of Franeker, and the villages of Mendaldum and Dongjum.

Before 1880, Friesland had little emigration; “fewer than 4,000 persons emigrated, mostly after 1865; this was less than half the number from Groningen. The prime source area was the sea clay wheat region; three-fourths originated in the ten municipalities of the north coast from Harlingen to the Lauwerszee, centered in Het Bildt and Ferwerderadeel…. Northern Frisian emigrants came from the ranks of rural day laborers and more than a quarter were on the public dole” (Swierenga, 1998).

The majority of Frisian immigrants settled in western Michigan but some other Frisians, from the areas of Het Bildt and Westdongeradeel, settled in the city of Pella, Iowa to create the “Frisian Hoek” on the north edge of the city. Yet a few others settled in Wisconsin, Indiana (Goshen), and New York (Lancaster) (Swierenga, 1998).

Annemieke Galema (1995) investigated the census data for the state of Iowa. She found out that “by far the largest number of Frisian immigrants could be found in one county, namely in Sioux County. In 1900 402 people of Frisian origin and their descendants were traced here. Marion County had 85 and Muscatine County 15.”

In The Hollandish Roots of Pella Dutch in Iowa, Pieter van Reenen (1999) presents a list of names of almost all the Dutch immigrants of the city of Pella, Marion County, Iowa, from 1847-1880 (2,660 settlers). We know that Jacob M. Fokkema (Foreman) arrived in Iowa in 1882. But, unfortunately, van Reenen stops his list in 1880.

His list, however, includes two Fokkema individuals, both from Frisian speaking areas and members of the Reformed religion (NHK). One emigrated in 1855 and the other one in 1867. They were: 29 years old Broer Wijtzes Fokkema (1855), a house painter from Tietjerksteradeel, and 38 years old Jan Fokkema (1867), a market gardener from Gaasterland. They both emigrated for economic reasons.

According to van Reenen, in Pella (1846-1880), there were 348 individuals from Friesland out of which 220 were from Frisian speaking areas while the rest spoke Frisian-Dutch and Low Saxon dialects (Stadsfries and Stellingwerven, respectively).

In 1882, upon landing in America, Jacob M. Foreman found his way to the State of Iowa. Our research did not find out in which county he set his residence upon arrival in Iowa. However, because his first child was born in January 1885, in Le Mars, Plymouth County, Iowa, we think it could have been Plymouth County, which is a county adjacent to Sioux County (see map).


Map of Friesland. Source: Source:



Friesland’s sea clay soils along the north coast of the Netherlands (an agricultural area called the Bouwhoek to differentiate it from the grass land called Greidhoek.) “Thousands of Dutch Frisians migrated to the United States between 1880 and 1914. Especially a specific area in the North of the province known as De Bouwhoek, where farming is particularly determined by agriculture, provided the United States with Frisian inhabitants” (Galema, 1995). Source: Afanja’s web blog.



Map showing Sioux County and Plymouth County, Iowa. Source: Modified from .

People emigrate for a variety of motives. They are discontented with the place that they are in because of personal, political, economic, or religious factors and, often, due to a combination of all these elements. Thus, before delving into the origins of Larry Ray Foreman, it is important for us to have more knowledge about the main specific circumstances involved in Dutch emigration to North America.

I invite you to continue reading in the next section.



Support for VES Project

VES Project is a Venezuelan independent research initiative with no other source of funding except for the support it receives from its readers and people sympathetic toward the project’s aims and objectives. Because living conditions in Venezuela have become very difficult and harsh, your support is now more needed than ever to help us continue doing more research and writing.

VES Project needs funding to continue researching and writing the life stories of the Venezuelan STEM migration. If you wish to support VES Project, you can use PayPal to make a donation by clicking the DONATE button below. Thanks!


José G. Álvarez Cornett (Twiter: @Chegoyo)
Member of COENER,  and the “Physics and Mathematics for Biomedical Consortium“. Teacher of History of Physics and Cultural History of Science at the School of Physics, Faculty of Science, Central University of Venezuela and Alumni Representative before the School of Physics Council.

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