American Astronomical Society

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Meg Urry, Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Yale University, and Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. She recounts her childhood in Indiana and then in Boston and she discusses her family background and what she gained as a result of having a father who was a professor of chemistry. Urry describes her undergraduate experience at Tufts, where she developed her career interests in physics, and she describes a formative summer working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, where she became the first person to identify the first gravitational lens source of a background quasar. Urry discusses the circumstances leading to her graduate work at Johns Hopkins, where she conducted research with Art Davidsen, and she explains how she got her first job at the Goddard Space Flight Center where she spent a majority of her time during graduate school. She describes her research with Richard Mushotzky on blazars, and she explains some of the cultural differences between physics, which she felt was overly hierarchical and astronomy, which was more laid back and which employed many more women. Urry discusses her postdoctoral research on Seyfert galaxy spectra at MIT with Claude Canizares, who at the time was building the Chandra X-ray Observatory. She describes her second postdoctoral position at the Space Telescope Science Institute where she focused on the unification of radio-loud AGN, and she describes the decisions that led to her first full-time job at Space Telescope. She describes the high-pressure work environment at Space Telescope, and some of the structural disadvantages she experienced as a woman. Urry reflects on some of the shifting distinctions in the terms astronomy and astrophysics, and she explains the centrality of supermassive black holes during her tenure at Space Telescope. Urry recounts her decision to join the physics faculty at Yale, and she describes her excitement at the prospect of teaching in an academic environment. She describes how she maintained her collaborations with her former colleagues associates with the Hubble telescope. Urry describes tenure as chair of the department, and she reflects on her efforts to encourage a culture of greater diversity and inclusivity in the department, where she championed the recognition and promotion of many women and people of color, and she shares her ideas on how the physics community can work collectively to continue to advance this work. Urry discusses her work as president of the American Astronomical Society, and she reflects on the lessons of perseverance she learned from her father. At the end of the interview, Urry provides an overview of the current state of research on supermassive black holes, and she describes her work conveying scientific concepts to a broader audience. At the end of the interview, Urry explains the specific threats that science faces in a culture of eroding trust in public institutions.

Interviewed by
Samantha M. Thompson
Interview date
Location
Lenox, Massachusetts
Abstract

Elske van Panhuys Smith discusses topics including: her childhood in Monaco, Austria, Holland, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and the United States of America; undergraduate education at Radcliffe with Harlow Shapley; marriage to Henry Smith; graduate school in astronomy at Harvard University with Bart Bok; job interviews with Leo Goldberg, Jesse Greenstein, Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM), Jack Evans; job offer at Sacramento Peak; reception from graduate professors concerning solar astronomy; family life and children in Alamogordo; High Altitude Observatory; fellowship at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Boulder; move to Washington, DC for husband's job offer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters; teaching position at the University of Maryland; American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the early years of the Solar Physics Division (SPD); discrimination against women in scence; Ed Dennison; Donald Menze; Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) teaching and administration in the College of Humanities and Science; research at the Naval Observatory and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Suzuki's office, Kamiokande Research Facility, Kamioka
Abstract

This interview is part of a small program to document the recent history of the American Astronomical Society. These interviews were used as background studies to help authors of chapters for the centennial history volume of the Society research and organize documentary materials. The volume was published in 1999. Some topics include: Brookhaven National Laboratory, Gran Sassa Laboratory, Osaka University, University of Tokyo. Prominently mentioned are John Bahcall, Masatoshi Koshiba, Alfred Mann, Kozo Miyake, Yorikio Nagashima.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Kamiokande Facility, Kamioka, Japan
Abstract

This interview is part of a small program to document the recent history of the American Astronomical Society. These interviews were used as background studies to help authors of chapters for the centennial history volume of the Society research and organize documentary materials. The volume to be published in 1999.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Smithsonian, Washington, D. C.
Abstract

In this interview, Andrea Dupree discusses topics such as: her family background and childhood; doing her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College; Janet Guernsey; C. P. Snow; becoming interested in astronomy; what is was like being a woman and fitting into the physics profession and dealing with gender inequality; Sarah Hill; Allan Sandage; Hans Bethe; Phil Morrison; Otto Struve; going to the Royal Greenwich Observatory for a summer; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; Dorrit Hoffleit; variable star fields; deciding to go to Berkeley for graduate school; Ivan King; Hyron Spinrad; Lick Observatory; coming back to Harvard University after a year; George Wallerstein; William Liller; Leo Goldberg; her affiliation with the American Astronomical Society (AAS); Don Osterbrock; Simon "Pete" Worden; Owen Chamberlain; Alex Dalgarno; Harvard College Observatory; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Ed Lilley; solar physics; ionization rates; Herb Friedman; Dick Tousey; Henry Smith; stellar atmospheres; Fred Whipple; Donald Menzel; Margaret Burbidge; orbiting solar observatories (OSO); Skylab program; Lyman Spitzer; Robert Noyes; Henry Norris Russell; International Astronomical Union (IAU); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); George Field; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO); Eric Chaisson; Jesse Greenstein; Celescope.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Edmondson’s Office, Swain Hall, Indiana University
Abstract

Early home life in Indiana, and early schooling. Origins of his interest in astronomy and the influence of both family and teachers. College years at Indiana University and contacts with members of the astronomy department there (E.C. and Vesto M. Slipher). Discussion of history of Indiana University Astronomy Department, and its contact with the Lowell Observatory. Graduate school at Harvard University, Peter van de Kamp's influence, work in stellar kinematics, impressions of atmosphere at Harvard. Faculty position at Indiana University, 1937 to present. Origins of Goethe Link Observatory, and the growth of the department. Organizational work in the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Work at National Science Foundation (NSF) as scientific officer for astronomy, 1956, and development of National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO); NSF and AUI; NRAO directors; Sputnik; Kitt Peak Observatory site survey, NSF and Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA); Aden Meinel; John B. Irwin's proposal for a photoelectric observatory; Flagstaff Conference; Robert McMath Panel; structure of Kitt Peak staff; Chilean observatory and development of Cerro Tololo; Gerard Kuiper's role in southern observatory; European Southern Observatory (ESO), Carnegie Southern Observatory (CARSO) and AURA joint Paris meeting; Russian interests in southern observatory; CARSO application to Ford Foundation; agreements between AURA and CARSO; building telescopes at Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololoth︣e WISCO dispute; policy problems; AURA Board meetings; demise of Space Division at Kitt Peak; Whitford Panel; White Sands rocket project; astronomy and teaching at Indiana. Also prominently mentioned are: Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez, Lawrence Hugh Aller, Bart Jan Bok, William A. Cogshall, James Cuffey, H. T. Davis, Arthur Foley, Paul Herget, Helen Sawyer Hogg, Virgil Hunt, Geoffrey Keller, C. O. Lampland, Robert Reynolds McMath, Edward Arthur Milne, Samuel A. Mitchell, William Wilson Morgan, Jason John Nassau, Henry Norris Russell, Frederico Rutllant, Charles Donald Shane, Harlow Shapley, Jurgen Stock, Otto Struve, Merle Antony Tuve, Herman B. Wells, K. P. Williams, Marshall Wrubel; Associated Universities, Inc., Ford Foundation, Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System, Lick Observatory, McDonald Observatory, and Yerkes Observatory.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Edmondson’s Office, Swain Hall, Indiana University
Abstract

Early home life in Indiana, and early schooling. Origins of his interest in astronomy and the influence of both family and teachers. College years at Indiana University and contacts with members of the astronomy department there (E.C. and Vesto M. Slipher). Discussion of history of Indiana University Astronomy Department, and its contact with the Lowell Observatory. Graduate school at Harvard University, Peter van de Kamp's influence, work in stellar kinematics, impressions of atmosphere at Harvard. Faculty position at Indiana University, 1937 to present. Origins of Goethe Link Observatory, and the growth of the department. Organizational work in the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Work at National Science Foundation (NSF) as scientific officer for astronomy, 1956, and development of National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO); NSF and AUI; NRAO directors; Sputnik; Kitt Peak Observatory site survey, NSF and Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA); Aden Meinel; John B. Irwin's proposal for a photoelectric observatory; Flagstaff Conference; Robert McMath Panel; structure of Kitt Peak staff; Chilean observatory and development of Cerro Tololo; Gerard Kuiper's role in southern observatory; European Southern Observatory (ESO), Carnegie Southern Observatory (CARSO) and AURA joint Paris meeting; Russian interests in southern observatory; CARSO application to Ford Foundation; agreements between AURA and CARSO; building telescopes at Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololoth︣e WISCO dispute; policy problems; AURA Board meetings; demise of Space Division at Kitt Peak; Whitford Panel; White Sands rocket project; astronomy and teaching at Indiana. Also prominently mentioned are: Jorge Alessandri Rodríguez, Lawrence Hugh Aller, Bart Jan Bok, William A. Cogshall, James Cuffey, H. T. Davis, Arthur Foley, Paul Herget, Helen Sawyer Hogg, Virgil Hunt, Geoffrey Keller, C. O. Lampland, Robert Reynolds McMath, Edward Arthur Milne, Samuel A. Mitchell, William Wilson Morgan, Jason John Nassau, Henry Norris Russell, Frederico Rutllant, Charles Donald Shane, Harlow Shapley, Jurgen Stock, Otto Struve, Merle Antony Tuve, Herman B. Wells, K. P. Williams, Marshall Wrubel; Associated Universities, Inc., Ford Foundation, Indiana Higher Education Telecommunication System, Lick Observatory, McDonald Observatory, and Yerkes Observatory.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Location
Enrico Fermi Institute, Chicago, Illinois
Abstract

A thorough, reflective survey of the life and work of this theoretical astrophysicist. Early life and education in India, 1910-1930, and experiences at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, 1930-1937, with comments on Edward A. Milne and Arthur S. Eddington; debate with the latter over collapse of white dwarf stars. Move to U.S. in 1937, with comments on the situation at Harvard and Princeton Universities since the 1930s, and especially on Henry N. Russell, John Von Neumann, and Martin Schwarzschild. Social context at University of Chicago and Yerkes Observatory since 1937, with remarks on Gerard Kuiper, Otto Struve, Bengt Strömgren, etc. Work as teacher there, and as editor of Astrophysical Journal from 1951 until it was given to the American Astronomical Society in 1971. Scientific work resulting in Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure (1939) and publications on stochastic processes in galaxy and in general, radiative transfer, interstellar polarization, hydrodynamics and hydromagnetics (including experimental checks). Recent work on general relativity and Kerr metric; comments on cosmology. General remarks on the social structure of astronomy and its cultural role. Extended discussion of his way of functioning as a theorist. Also prominently mentioned are: Hans Albrecht Bethe, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, Enrico Fermi, Ralph Howard Fowler, George Gamow, Robert Hutchins, James Jeans, Alfred H. Joy, William Wilson Morgan, Harry Hemley Plaskett, Sir Chandrasekhar Vankata Raman, Ernest Rutherford, Harlow Shapley, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld, Lyman Spitzer, Eugene Paul Wigner; Aberdeen Proving Ground, American Astronomical Society, Presidency College (Madras), United States Office of Naval Research, and United States Proving Ground at Aberdeen MD Ballistics Research Laboratory.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Abstract

A thorough, reflective survey of the life and work of this theoretical astrophysicist. Early life and education in India, 1910-1930, and experiences at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, 1930-1937, with comments on Edward A. Milne and Arthur S. Eddington; debate with the latter over collapse of white dwarf stars. Move to U.S. in 1937, with comments on the situation at Harvard and Princeton Universities since the 1930s, and especially on Henry N. Russell, John Von Neumann, and Martin Schwarzschild. Social context at University of Chicago and Yerkes Observatory since 1937, with remarks on Gerard Kuiper, Otto Struve, Bengt Strömgren, etc. Work as teacher there, and as editor of Astrophysical Journal from 1951 until it was given to the American Astronomical Society in 1971. Scientific work resulting in Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure (1939) and publications on stochastic processes in galaxy and in general, radiative transfer, interstellar polarization, hydrodynamics and hydromagnetics (including experimental checks). Recent work on general relativity and Kerr metric; comments on cosmology. General remarks on the social structure of astronomy and its cultural role. Extended discussion of his way of functioning as a theorist. Also prominently mentioned are: Hans Albrecht Bethe, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, Enrico Fermi, Ralph Howard Fowler, George Gamow, Robert Hutchins, James Jeans, Alfred H. Joy, William Wilson Morgan, Harry Hemley Plaskett, Sir Chandrasekhar Vankata Raman, Ernest Rutherford, Harlow Shapley, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld, Lyman Spitzer, Eugene Paul Wigner; Aberdeen Proving Ground, American Astronomical Society, Presidency College (Madras), United States Office of Naval Research, and United States Proving Ground at Aberdeen MD Ballistics Research Laboratory.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Abstract

A thorough, reflective survey of the life and work of this theoretical astrophysicist. Early life and education in India, 1910-1930, and experiences at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, 1930-1937, with comments on Edward A. Milne and Arthur S. Eddington; debate with the latter over collapse of white dwarf stars. Move to U.S. in 1937, with comments on the situation at Harvard and Princeton Universities since the 1930s, and especially on Henry N. Russell, John Von Neumann, and Martin Schwarzschild. Social context at University of Chicago and Yerkes Observatory since 1937, with remarks on Gerard Kuiper, Otto Struve, Bengt Strömgren, etc. Work as teacher there, and as editor of Astrophysical Journal from 1951 until it was given to the American Astronomical Society in 1971. Scientific work resulting in Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure (1939) and publications on stochastic processes in galaxy and in general, radiative transfer, interstellar polarization, hydrodynamics and hydromagnetics (including experimental checks). Recent work on general relativity and Kerr metric; comments on cosmology. General remarks on the social structure of astronomy and its cultural role. Extended discussion of his way of functioning as a theorist. Also prominently mentioned are: Hans Albrecht Bethe, Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, Enrico Fermi, Ralph Howard Fowler, George Gamow, Robert Hutchins, James Jeans, Alfred H. Joy, William Wilson Morgan, Harry Hemley Plaskett, Sir Chandrasekhar Vankata Raman, Ernest Rutherford, Harlow Shapley, Arnold Johannes Wilhelm Sommerfeld, Lyman Spitzer, Eugene Paul Wigner; Aberdeen Proving Ground, American Astronomical Society, Presidency College (Madras), United States Office of Naval Research, and United States Proving Ground at Aberdeen MD Ballistics Research Laboratory.