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Nolan R. Walborn

Nolan R. Walborn

Although he was born just 200 km north of Baltimore, astronomer Nolan Walborn traveled widely before returning to this area of the world. When he was 8 years old his family moved to Argentina, where he attended local schools and became fluent in Spanish. Returning to the U.S., he did undergraduate studies at Gettysburg College, back home in Pennsylvania, and then moved on to the University of Chicago and Yerkes Observatory to obtain his PhD in astronomy in 1970. His thesis advisor was one of the giants of 20th-century astronomy, W. W. Morgan.

After a postdoctoral fellowship in Toronto, Nolan returned to Latin America for an 8-year staff appointment at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. He has been on the staff of the Space Telescope Science Institute since 1984, and he is a well-known stellar spectroscopist specializing in the optical and ultraviolet spectra of hot, massive (O- and B-type) stars and the regions of the Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds in which they are formed.

Nolan recalls that his fascination with science in general and astronomy in particular arose because of outstanding teachers in high school (Dr. N. Mittelman) and college (Dr. R. Mara and staff). This fascination was actually enough for him to abandon his original ambition to become a jet fighter pilot!

He writes that his astronomical career has allowed him the great satisfaction "provided by the discovery of new phenomena, which one has the privilege of recognizing for the first time." He has been struck by the "awesome direct views of the Galaxy during perfect, moonless nights on Cerro Tololo," especially when "the Galactic Center is directly overhead, and the brilliant plane of the Milky Way, broken by dark dust lanes and clouds, stretches from Cygnus at the northeastern horizon to Carina at the southwestern."

Waxing lyrical, he continues "When beholding such sights I am impressed by their beauty, but equally by the satisfaction of understanding them at some level, which previous generations were unable to do lacking the benefit of our modern sciences. I'll never forget the images of 30 Doradus and the globular clusters Omega Centauri and 47 Tucanae through an eyepiece at the prime focus of the CTIO 4-meter reflector. Unfortunately, most modern astronomers no longer have such opportunities, seeing their targets only on colorless, fuzzy TV monitors--or not at all with HST!"

When away from STScI, Nolan spends time with his wife, Laura, from Argentina, who also has an astronomy degree, and their toddler son Andrew. He enjoys listening to baroque and symphonic music (Bach and Vaughan Williams being his respective favorites), and he wishes he had more opportunities to snorkel in tropical waters.