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Ray Lucas
Ray Lucas (STScI)
The photo on my computer screen shows an image of an Ultraluminous Infrared Galaxy (ULIRG).
Photo credit: Skip Westphal

Ray Lucas

Have you ever felt that you were "called" to work in a particular field of endeavor? In my case, I literally was...

Astronomy was my first love among the sciences as a child while growing up on our family farm near Hillsborough, North Carolina, and while attending school there at Cameron Park Elementary, Orange Junior High School, and finally Orange High School. I can specifically remember the feeling and the real change of perspective I got while less than 10, lying on my back on a hillside on our farm and looking up at the band of the Milky Way, realizing that I was looking at the disk of the galaxy and that intergalactic space was to either side of it. And I can also remember being fascinated by visits to the local planetarium and times spent reading everything I could get my hands on related to astronomy and the study of the universe. But I also loved many other things as well, and so many things that, without ever really completely forgetting about astronomy, I got distracted somewhat by many of these other things for some years, during which I had many interesting detours... And then, after rediscovering my passion for astronomy very late in my undergraduate career at UNC-Chapel Hill, and working at it for some years without expectation or even thought of gainful employment in it, it found me again as well when Professor Morris Davis, now Professor Emeritus
at UNC, unbeknownst to me, and somewhat to my amazement, gave my name to someone at STScI. Continuing this life-changing sequence of events, and about 24-36 hours after the requisite visit and interviews at STScI, in the Spring of 1985, I was asked to come and work here - practically plucked from the halls of UNC-Chapel Hill and deposited here to work in the part of STScI, the Guide Star Catalog and all-sky digital image archive project under the late Barry Lasker, which was undoubtedly one of the best places for eventually becoming involved in what interested me the most - research on peculiar or interacting and merging galaxies. And I also got to do further coursework at Johns Hopkins with Colin Norman, Allan Sandage, George Miley, and Alex Szalay. I could only wish that I was as good a student as they deserved. And I probably could not have consciously planned such a convoluted path to one of my childhood dreams, had I tried!

Now, all these years later, I've been very fortunate to meet, study with, and work with many very good people - good people in every sense of the word - and I must say a heart-felt "thank you" to all who have helped me and been partners, co-workers, and fellow travelers on this journey through all the ups and downs (and ups, again!) of a project like HST. I've been privileged to work on many interesting projects with HST and other telescopes, and to participate in adventures like the Hubble Deep Fields and GOODS.

Because of my name being associated with some web sites on astronomy here at STScI, I get letters from all over the world, sometimes with requests for advice on how to get into astronomy. I'm sure this is true of others, too. Although I can't recommend the specific somewhat unorthodox path that has brought me to where I am now as a way for someone to get into astronomy, especially since there are never so many jobs in astronomy as there are in many other fields, what I can first say to younger people or anyone for that matter, is that there is always more to learn, and that I am always aware of and glad of that. And the next thing I can say is that, especially in these times, if you want to be of benefit to humankind, no matter what the field of study, as long as you work to promote understanding and love rather than hate, if you nurture lots of interests and dreams for using your talents and abilities in multiple areas, and pay attention to developments in them, taking or even helping create any opportunities that present themselves for involvement, even as a volunteer, doing small or less pleasant jobs and ennobling them by your effort, and if you are not so afraid of failure to try something, nor allow yourself to become bitter even if you fail, if you can do something even just for the love of it, then you can at least be glad you spent your time doing something you loved. (And your time really is more valuable than money, even though most of us, myself included, have to also be concerned with the reality of making a living.) So, if you can do all this, then you never know when you may be unexpectedly given the chance to live some of those childhood dreams!

More? A longer though still somewhat incomplete version...

Finally, here is a bit more about hobbies, etc.