Van de Graaff, Robert Jemison (văn də gräf) [key], 1901–67, American physicist, b. Tuscaloosa, Ala., grad. Univ. of Alabama (B.S., 1922), Ph.D. Oxford, 1928. He was research associate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1931–34) and associate professor from 1934. He developed an electrostatic particle accelerator—now called a Van de Graaff generator—used in nuclear research. Introduced in 1931, it uses the charge that accumulates from a rapidly moving belt inside an insulated hollow metal globe to produce high-voltage electrical discharges that look like lightning.