He earned his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 1965, for the development of a bar antenna for the detection of gravitational radiation. He then went to work at Hughes Aircraft's research labs, where he continued his research on gravity measurement and received 18 patents. He took early retirement in 1987, to focus on his fiction writing and consulting for such clients as NASA and the US Air Force.
Much of his research focused on the leading edges of speculative physics, but was always grounded in what he believed humans could accomplish. He worked on such projects as space tethers, solar sails (including Starwisp), antimatter propulsion, and other spacecraft propulsion technologies, and did further research on more esoteric possibilities such as time travel and negative matter.
In addition to over 200 papers and articles, he published 11 novels. He described his first novel, Dragon's Egg, as "A textbook on neutron star physics disguised as a novel."
His treatment of hard-science topics in fictional form is highly reminiscent of the work of Hal Clement.