Astronomical instruments

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Alan Dressler, Astronomer Emeritus at The Carnegie Institute for Science Observatories. He describes his current focus on the James Webb Telescope and he conveys concern for a "post-reality" political environment that has taken a grip on American politics. He recounts his upbringing in Cincinnati, and how his curiosity about how things worked naturally pulled him toward astronomical interests. Dressler discusses his undergraduate education at UC Berkeley and his decision to pursue a PhD in the newly created Department of Astronomy at UC Santa Cruz. He describes the importance of the Lick Observatory for his research under the direction of Joe Wampler, and how Jim Peebles gave this thesis project a "seal" of approval. Dressler describes the origins of the Dressler Relation in his study of the morphology of galaxies and the density of their environment, and he describes the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral appointment at Carnegie. He explains the history of the Caltech-Carnegie partnership in astronomy, and he describes working with Allan Sandage and Jim Gunn. Dressler emphasizes the revolutionary effect the Hubble Telescope imparted to the field, and he discusses his time as a Las Campanas fellow. He describes how his work on galaxy formation fed into larger questions about the origins of the universe and the broader philosophical implication of our understanding of Earth's place in the universe. Dressler explains the Great Attractor Model and the state of play in black hole research in the 1980s, and he describes why he did not need to "see" an image of black holes to be convinced of their existence. He narrates the origins of the Association of Universities for Research and Astronomy, and the drama surrounding the repair of the Hubble. Dressler describes presenting the HST & Beyond report to NASA administrator Dan Goldin, and he discusses the natural progression for his work on the NASA Origins program. He discusses his subsequent focus on the Magellan Telescope and the EOS Decadal Survey. At the end of the interview, Dressler reflects on the strides made in galaxy formation research over the course of his career, and he conveys pride in playing a role in science, for which he appreciated since youth as a field that offered limitless opportunities to improve the world. 

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Abstract

Extensive interview covering early life and family in New York and Maine; schooling and early interests in astronomy in New York City; observing Halley's comet in 1910; World War I and college years at Harvard University majoring in chemistry; medical degree from Cornell University; contacts with Henry Norris Russell and Harlow Shapley, and decision to move into astronomy; graduate work at Princeton; postdoctoral work and staff position at Mt. Wilson in the 1930s; interests in instrumentation and planetary atmospheres; the role of the Schmidt Camera in spectroscopy; planetary spectroscopy and the nature of the interstellar medium; founding of the FAR (Fund for Astronomical Research); World war II and work in optics for the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD); travels to Britian during the war; decision to leave astronomy after the war; move to Rochester for biophysical research; return to astronomy in 1952. The second interview concentrates on his contacts with Henry Norris Russell and activities during World War II.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Abstract

Extensive interview covering early life and family in New York and Maine; schooling and early interests in astronomy in New York City; observing Halley's comet in 1910; World War I and college years at Harvard University majoring in chemistry; medical degree from Cornell University; contacts with Henry Norris Russell and Harlow Shapley, and decision to move into astronomy; graduate work at Princeton; postdoctoral work and staff position at Mt. Wilson in the 1930s; interests in instrumentation and planetary atmospheres; the role of the Schmidt Camera in spectroscopy; planetary spectroscopy and the nature of the interstellar medium; founding of the FAR (Fund for Astronomical Research); World war II and work in optics for the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC) of the Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD); travels to Britian during the war; decision to leave astronomy after the war; move to Rochester for biophysical research; return to astronomy in 1952. The second interview concentrates on his contacts with Henry Norris Russell and activities during World War II.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Location
Santa Barbara Street, Pasadena, California
Abstract

This interview begins with a discussion of Babcock's childhood and youth around Mt. Wilson Observatory, with comments on father (Harold D. Babcock), Walter S. Adams, and Edwin P. Hubble. Also discussed in this interview: education at Caltech, University of California at Berkeley and Lick Observatory (1934-1939), and at Yerkes and MacDonald Observatories; work at MIT and Caltech on World War II hardware; astronomical instrumentation work, especially postwar Mt. Wilson-Palomar diffraction gratings; discovery of magnetic stars and studies of variations; work on solar magnetic fields (with father) and theory of solar cycle; comments on cosmology; discussion of Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories since the 1920s, especially under Ira Bowen's and Babcock's directorship (1963); internal administration; staff relations; dealings with Carnegie Institution and Caltech; discussion of Hale Observatories, 1930-1977; role of government funding in astronomy; guest investigators; allocation of telescope time; planning, funding, and construction of the Carnegie Southern Observatory at Las Campanas, 1963-1977. Also prominently mentioned are: Philip Abelson, Ed Ackerman, Carl David Anderson, Wilhelm Heinrich Walter Baade, Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Vannevar Bush, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Crawford Greenewalt, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, George Ellery Hale, Caryl Haskins, Louis Henyey, Armin O. Leuschner, Nicholas Ulrich Mayall, Charles Edward Kenneth Mees, Paul Merrill, Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski, Edgar Nichols, Elmer Prall, Bruce Rule, Frederick H. Seares, Sinclair Smith, Otto Struve, Charles Hard Townes, George van Biesbroeck, H. A. Wood, Fritz Zwicky; Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Astrophysical Journal, Bausch and Lomb Co., Eastman Kodak Co., Ford Foundation, Hale Observatories, Hale Solar Laboratory, Inyokern Project, Kitt Peak National Observatory, Las Campanas Observatory, Lick Observatory Bulletin, McDonald Observatory, Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories, National Science Foundation (U.S.), 48-inch Schmidt Telescope, 100-inch Telescope, 120-inch Telescope, 200-inch Telescope, and University of California at Berkeley, CA.