Penn State Erie
I think I became interested in astronomy
on a camping trip when my scoutmaster, Hank Webster, in
El Centro, California pointed out Orion, and showed me how
to recognize some of the other constellations. Shortly thereafter,
I saw Saturn and its rings through a telescope that an amateur,
whose name I probably never knew, set up on a sidewalk near
my junior high school. I remember too, the comets, Arend-Roland
and Mrkos in 1957, and the impression that they made in
the dark skies of the Imperial Valley in California then.
I think I was hooked, although I took several
side trips before becoming an astronomer. I studied physics
in college and in graduate school, but after some time researching
a project that I couldn't get very interested in, I switched
back to astronomy, and have been with it ever since. I remember
how generous and supportive the Astronomy faculty at Berkeley
was, and the excellent education even in the midst of the
turmoil that beset Berkeley in the 1960s.
I post-doc'ed at the University of California
at Santa Cruz, and then joined the faculty at the University
at Stony Brook in New York, where I remained for many years.
There I was privileged to work with five graduate students,
Alan Tokunaga, Erick Young, Keith Noll, Tim Brooke, and
Sergio Fajardo-Acosta, who have since made careers in astronomy.
Then restlessness or wanderlust hit again, as well as an
opportunity to do more with undergraduate education, and
I became Director of the School of Science at Behrend College
at the Erie campus of Penn State University. While this
is an administrative job, it's also been an opportunity
to learn more about biology, computer science, chemistry,
geoscience, mathematics, and physics, and to help develop
them into first-rate undergraduate programs. I still find
some time to do some astronomy, and to teach.
I've done only a little extragalactic research
- infrared polarization observations of quasars, Seyfert
galaxies, and BL Lac objects in the 1970's. Most of my research
has been in interstellar and circumstellar matter and planetary
science. I learned about Mrk 205 and NGC 4319, and the controversy
surrounding them, as a graduate student. It's been fun to
come back to these galaxies, at least peripherally, after
many years. The controversy about the distance to Mrk 205
seems to have dropped from the mainstream of astronomy,
with just a handful of remaining adherents to the position
that redshifts don't always determine distance (I'm not
one). I'm not sure that the new image will change that.
At Penn State Erie, we have a long-running
series of "Open House Nights in Astronomy." Monthly
public talks are followed by astronomical observing, when
the weather permits. I'm continually surprised and gratified
by the public's response. People are very interested in
science when it's presented in ways accessible to them,
and are strongly supportive of NASA and programs like the
Hubble Space Telescope. It's important that astronomy maintains
its openness to society, and not become an insulated academic
discipline. And maybe in our audience there'll be a young
kid who'll be turned on by seeing Orion or Saturn.