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Gene Byrd

Gene Byrd

University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa

Gene Byrd received his BS in physics from Texas A&M University and doctorate in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin which means (to those who know about Texas) he has a complete education comparable to an ancient Greek who first studied in Sparta then Athens. His access to this education was mainly due to one thing, Sputnik. A childhood in the isolating mud roads of rural Texas with no one in his family having attended college would have made college, much less graduate school, very unlikely. However, the shock of Sputnik's ``beep beep" changed both the nation and local attitudes toward education. After getting his Ph. D., he starting applying for jobs at universities around the country. His wife, Kathy, who was born and raised in Colorado placed only one restriction on the job search, ``any place but the deep south." As luck would have it, a postdoc in the study of the spiral structure of galaxies, his area of research, became available at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Kathy said, ``OK, for a year or two." A permanent faculty position then opened up and they've happily been members of the University community ever since. He first noticed the strange spiral structure in NGC 4622 during the 1980's in a photo in the new astronomy text ``The Physical Universe" by the eminent astronomer Frank Shu who included a large photo of NGC4622 but made no mention that it has a two-way spiral structure, a single inner counter clockwise-opening arm plus an outer pair of clockwise-opening arms. He knew that this beautiful but strange galaxy had to have either one or maybe two leading arms, something that at first glance appears impossible.