Osterbrock, Donald E. 1924-

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OSTERBROCK, Donald E. 1924-

PERSONAL: Born July 13, 1924, in Cincinnati, OH; son of William C. (a professor) and Elsie (a homemaker; maiden name, Wettlin) Osterbrock; married Irene L. Hansen, September 19, 1952; children: Carol Ann, William Carl, Laura Jane. Ethnicity: "German." Education: University of Chicago, Ph.B. and B.S., both 1948, M.S., 1949, Ph.D., 1952. Religion: Congregationalist. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, drama, hiking, bird watching, travel, conversation.

ADDRESSES: Home—120 Woodside Ave., Santa Cruz, CA 95060-3422. Office—Lick Observatory, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, research fellow and instructor, 1952-53; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, instructor, 1953-55, assistant professor, 1955-58; University of Wisconsin—Madison, assistant professor, 1958-59, associate professor, 1959-61, professor, 1961-73, chairman of department of astronomy, 1969-72; University of California, Santa Cruz, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, 1973-92, professor emeritus, 1993—, director of Lick Observatory, 1973-81. Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, research fellow, 1960-61, 1982-83, Ambrose Monell Fellow in Natural Sciences and Otto Neugebauer Fellow in the History of Science, both 1989-90; University of Chicago, visiting professor, 1963-64; University of London, senior postdoctoral fellow, 1968-69; University of Minnesota—Twin Cities, Hill Family Professor, 1977-78; University of Saõ Paulo, lecturer at Advanced Summer School of Astrophysics, 1983; Ohio State University, visiting professor, 1986; Henry Norris Russell Lecturer, American Astronomical Society, 1991; Antoinette de Vancouleurs Lecturer, University of Texas at Austin, 1994. Military service: U.S. Army Air Forces, 1943-46.

MEMBER: International Astronomy Union, National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, American Astronomical Society (vice president, 1975-77, president, 1988-90), Royal Astronomical Society (associate), Astronomy Society of the Pacific, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters.

AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellow, 1960-61, 1982-83; National Science Foundation senior fellow, 1968-69; Professional Achievement Award, University of Chicago Alumni Association, 1982; D.Sc., Ohio State University, 1986, University of Chicago, 1992, and University of Wisconsin—Madison, 1997; named Distinguished Scholar in Physics and Astronomy, University Center (Atlanta, GA), 1990; Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 1991; Asteroid 6107 was named Osterbrock in his honor, 1996; Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal, 1997.


(Editor, with C. Robert O'Dell) Planetary Nebulae, Springer Verlag (New York, NY), 1968.

Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae, W. H. Freeman (San Francisco, CA), 1974.

James E. Keeler, Pioneer American Astrophysicist: And the Early Development of American Astrophysics, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1984.

(Editor, with Peter H. Raven) Origins and Extinctions, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1988.

(With W. J. Shiloh Unruh) Eye on the Sky: Lick Observatory's First Century, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1988.

Astrophysics of Gaseous Nebulae and Active Galactic Nuclei, University Science Books (Mill Valley, CA), 1989.

(Editor, with Joseph S. Miller) Active Galactic Nuclei, Kluwer Academic (Boston, MA), 1989.

(Editor) Stars and Galaxies: Citizens of the Universe, W. H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1990.

Pauper and Prince: Richey, Hale, and Big American Telescopes, University of Arizona Press (Tucson, AZ), 1993.

Yerkes Observatory, 1892-1950: The Birth, Near Death, and Resurrection of a Scientific Research Institution, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1997.

Walter Baade: A Life in Astrophysics, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2001.

SIDELIGHTS: Donald E. Osterbrock personally knew the subject of his biography Walter Baade: A Life in Astrophysics. Both were astronomers, working together during the 1950s, when Osterbrock—the younger of the two—was just beginning his career. Walter Baade, while not well known to the general public, is a "superstar" among those in his profession, according to Gilbert Taylor in Booklist. Baade was known for his exacting standards and extreme accuracy. He started out by observing solar eclipses at the Hamburg Observatory in Germany, but was really interested in cutting-edge projects of the time, such as discovering the size and shape of the Milky Way galaxy. Hoping to become involved with more forward-thinking colleagues, Baade moved to California, where he was associated with the Mount Wilson Observatory. There he established a reputation as an expert on globular clusters of stars. In 1944 he made a tremendous breakthrough by demonstrating that stars can be either ancient or very young. This discovery implied that all components of the universe have an evolutionary history.

Osterbrock's biography of Baade is "painstakingly researched" and "stunningly complete," according to S. Alan Stern in an Astronomy review of Walter Baade. This "delightfully engaging account" of one man's life also serves as "a welcome addition to the history of twentieth-century astronomy" and is "a wonderful read," concluded Stern. Library Journal writer Jack W. Weigel described Osterbrock's book as "a solid biography," and added that the descriptions of Baade's work "are at a moderately technical level; readers with reasonable knowledge of modern astronomy will benefit most from this work."

Osterbrock, whose own specialties lie in the study of interstellar gas and nebulae, once told CA: "I am a research astronomer. Most of my books are textbooks, research monographs, or books for the semitechnical, interested reader. I wrote them to communicate my ideas and methods in special fields. I am also an historian of astronomy, especially of American astronomy in the big-telescope era since about 1880 or 1890. I believe that, as an astronomer, I can understand the history of my subject better than most other historians. My familiarity with Lick, Yerkes, Mount Wilson, and Palomar Observatories enables me to understand the scientists who worked there (and in other observatories) earlier. The continuity of the long line of astronomers, from the great figures of the past right down to us today is an endlessly fascinating subject to me."



Notable Scientists: From 1900 to the Present, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


Astronomy, February, 2002, S. Alan Stern, review of Walter Baade: A Life in Astrophysics, p. 93.

Booklist, December 15, 2001, Gilbert Taylor, review of Walter Baade, p. 694.

Choice, March, 2002, A. R. Upgren, review of Walter Baade, p. 1261.

Library Journal, November 1, 2001, Jack W. Weigel, review of Walter Baade, p. 130.

Physics Today, November, 2002, Norriss S. Hetherington, review of Walter Baade, p. 69.


University of California Lick Observatory Web site,http://www.ucolick.org/ (February 13, 2004).*