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John Biretta

John Biretta
Space Telescope Science Institute

John Biretta is an Associate Astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. He has been at STScI since 1993 and is currently in charge of the Wide Field / Planetary Camera group. Dr. Biretta's scientific interests are in the area of "active" galaxies and the jets they often contain. Much of his work is devoted to understanding how these jets are formed, and how they propagate across enormous distances in their host galaxies.

John grew up in Greenhills, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. One of his early recollections was his family going outside one night to see a new satellite pass over. "While I don't think we saw the satellite, I still remember the sky that night -- richly blanketed with countless stars; it was incredibly beautiful," he says. He was interested in science from early childhood, and the influence of the Apollo space program helped turn his interests towards astronomy during his early teens. He soon spent many hours scanning and photographing the skies with his home-made eight inch Newtonian telescope (a fine instrument which he still uses today). He obtained a Bachelors degree in Physics from Thomas More College, a small liberal arts college, and went on to graduate school at the California Institute of Technology where he obtained a PhD in Astronomy. After research positions at Harvard and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, he came to the Space Telescope Institute where he has been responsible for calibrating and maintaining the Wide Field / Planetary Camera on board HST. John has written over a hundred scientific papers, primarily on active galaxies, using observations from many telescopes spanning the electromagnetic spectrum from the radio to X-ray wavelengths.

When not studying distant galaxies, John enjoys photography, backpacking, gardening, and classical violin. He and his wife Barbara live on a small farm in rural Maryland.


Ray Lucas
Ray Lucas

Ray Lucas

Space Telescope Science Institute

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 About Me...

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Vera Kozhurina-Platais

Ray Lucas
Vera Kozhurina-Platais
Space Telescope Science Institute

I have wanted to be an astronomer since I was 7-8 years old. I was born and grew up in Ural Mounts, a very rural part of Eastern Sibiria, where the winter is long and cold. In one of these long and cold winter nights when the sky was so clear, so high, so big and endless, from one site of my horizon to the other, covered with countless stars, I wondered - where did it all begin....

I started my astronomy career as a technician for the observatory of Ural State University. I observed satellites and helped to calculate the precise elements of their orbits. Several years later I went to Ural State University in Ekaterinburg, Russia to pursue my masters degree in astronomy.

Years after graduation I worked on astrometry projects at the Pulkovo Observatory in St. Petersburg, Russia, and later worked on studies of Earth's rotation at the University of Latvia. In 1991 I was fortunate to join the astrometry team at Yale University, where I worked on the Southern Proper Motion program. During my 10 years in the Astronomy Department at Yale, I expanded my astrometric interests to include stellar evolution models, particularly the interpolation of color-magnitudes diagram of open clusters with respect to stellar evolution. Several papers were written during that time dedicated to open clusters - proper motion, photometry and stellar evolutionary isochrones.

I left Yale for the Space Telescope Science Institute in 2001, where I am now Senior Data Analyst. My functional work is mainly devoted to multi-wavelength astrometric calibrations of WFPC2 and astrometric and photometric calibrations of the ACS polarized filters.

My work and family obligations take much of my time. I have two girls, one is a Product Designer and the other is studying international human rights. In my spare time I enjoy hiking, swimming, gardening, reading, and listening to ancient meditative Russian music.