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Rodolfo H. Barbá

Rodolfo
H. Barbá

Rodolfo Barbá is a leader among the young generation of Argentine astronomers. He was born near Buenos Aires, and grew up in a wide range of Argentinian localities, ranging from the sub-tropical rain forest of Tucuman in the northern part of his country, to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean in Mar del Plata, and the incredible southern land of whirlwinds called Patagonia. He can still recall Patagonian mornings when he needed to hold onto street signs or onto his mother to avoid being carried away by the wind.

In 1980, Rodolfo began studying astronomy at La Plata Observatory, making money on the side by working as a bartender, (bad) wall painter, babysitter, and electronics designer. He married his wife Laura in 1985, and obtained his Ph.D. from La Plata in 1994, a week before their son Dante was born.

Rodolfo was a postdoctoral fellow at STScI from 1997 to 1999, and is currently back in Argentina as a professor of astronomy and geophysics at La Plata University. He uses both HST and ground-based telescopes (especially those in Chile and Argentina) to study massive stars.

Rodolfo is one of those astronomers who chose their career very early in life, in his case as a 7-year-old boy. His earliest interest was sparked by the Apollo moon flights, and by an ancient astronomy textbook that his mother gave him. Lying on his back in Patagonia, he was able to identify the Southern Cross, the Belt of Orion, and the Magellanic Clouds. Later on a friend of his father loaned him a 3-inch telescope, and then his decision to become an astronomer was sealed. Laura, however, has her own theory: "He chose the stars as his fixed reference frame because of all the times his family had to move during his childhood."

Rodolfo delights in taking moments away from his work at large telescopes to sneak glances through the eyepiece at deep-sky objects. He says "I love to catch starlight gathered with the telescope directly into my eye. The 30 Doradus (or Tarantula) Nebula looks incredible in HST images, but the experience of seeing the Tarantula with my own eyes in a 2- or 4-m class telescope is simply indescribable. Every dark night I also try to take some time to step outside the telescope dome, just to look at the sky, hear the sounds of the night, smell the subtle aromas that the mountain breezes bring, and feel the caress of the cool air."

His greatest professional pleasures now come from his efforts to maintain and improve the level of astronomy in Argentina, his international collaborations, and sharing his passion for astronomy with his students. When he takes time off, he loves to go camping and trekking with his family in the Argentine national parks (especially in the Patagonian Andes) several times a the year, doing landscape and portrait photography, and climbing volcanoes.