News for the Alumni and Friends of Space Physics and Astronomy

Volume 1, Number 1

July 1999

Editor: Patricia Reiff (

35th Reunion:

This March we had our 35th departmental reunion : only the second time in our history that we had attempted to gather in all our alumni. We had 184 for dinner, including alumni, present departmental members, emeritus faculty and staff! Harrison Schmitt, the only scientist astronaut that walked on the moon, was our keynote speaker, and many of our alumni gave very interesting talks about their research. We also had a special videotaped message from our Brazilian alumni, presented by Rene Medrano. (Videotapes of the banquet and the talks are available). We are planning for our next reunion to occur in only 5 years, to be held the weekend before the Lunar and Planetary Conference (so that noone has an excuse not to come!).

Our "Outstanding Alumni" award winners were:

Wei Peng (90's)

Jeff Hester (80's)

Stan Woosley (70's)

and Jim Burch (60's)

There were, of course, many more terrific nominations than we could give awards to this time. So we will definitely do it again, and allow alumni to vote for (and not just nominate) their favorites. Tony Crider made up a really nice t-shirt for the reunion (black with a solar eclipse on it, with 3 5 spelled out by cassiopeia and cephus, respectively - if you want one, they are $7 plus $3 shipping or *free* -- see below) (Interesting that cassiopeia and cephus are the king and queen respectively, plus 3/5 was the date of the reunion!)


Departmental News:

I can see why "May you live in interesting times" is an ancient Chinese curse. Life is certainly interesting around here! Our department is going through a period of profound change. (Our most recent annual report is online). The faculty who were hired en masse 35 years ago are now retiring together. This sequence of retirements was anticipated, but what was not anticipated was the compression of the sequence caused by the University's retirement buyout offer, and by Haymes' retirement and the loss of Jon Weisheit to Los Alamos last year. We are very saddened by the the fact that 1999-2000 will be the last year on the regular faculty for

John Freeman

Curt Michel and

Bob O'Dell

We are pleased that Curt and John will still be around doing research after their retirements, but Dr. O'Dell is still deciding where he will spend the next few years. (He has wanted to retire to "within driving distance from Marshall" for family reasons for several years, and this early retirement package gives him the opportunity).

The faculty had a recent Retreat to discuss future directions we might take in replacing these faculty and other retirements which will come open in the next few years. We have identified three basic options, which we will present to our Visiting Committee this fall. We hope to be given the opportunity to fill at least two of the positions this year with astrophysicists (one a senior position, the second a junior position). We have not yet been given the go-ahead to advertise, but we can "ask around" to see who may be available. With both Curt and Bob retiring, the senior person could qualify for one of the endowed chairs.

The faculty has also decided to allow graduate student applicants who are only interested in Master's degrees. These could either be students working towards a technical career in astronomy or computation, or for educators seeking to become better qualified in teaching science. The Air Force, for example, is interested in having students receive a one-year master's degree.

Our proposal for dual undergraduate majors (BA/BS) is at the undergraduate curriculum committee. The "BS" option came out of the Wiess school strategic planning exercise. In this plan, our present "spac option" degree would become a BS, and a new BA with fewer requirements would be created, to allow double majors and non-graduate career paths. Since we recently lost our Provost David Austen to be President of Case Western Reserve, that proposal may be stalled until the new Provost is named.


Oncampus Observatory:

Many of you know that we have been wanting to create an on-campus observatory for some time. We would like to name it after Rice's first President, Edgar Odell Lovett, who came to Rice from Princeton because they would not build him an observatory. We would like to accomplish his dream before the 100-year anniversary of his installation as our first president.

Our present mechanism for students to view the stars and planets is by climbing through a small emergency exit at the top of some narrow stairs to reach the roof of Fondren, carrying the equipment. (We could no longer use the roof of space science because it only had one stairwell, and the fire code restricts usage in that case). I fear that someone will drop a telescope, or worse, break a leg. And many of us have bruises to show for the low headroom of that door! Since we can't leave the telescopes on the roof, we can't offer viewing every clear night, since it takes so long to set up and tear down.

There will be a new college built on campus, the Martel College, and Art Few has been working with that committee to try to keep the possibility for a rooftop observatory in its plans. However, the costs have been escalating (they want to charge us for a dedicated elevator to the roof), and it appears that they will drop that option. We may still be able to put the observatory on the extensions to Jones or Brown.

We need to show support from our alumni and friends that we can help raise the money for the facility. The facility itself should cost $100 - 150K (plus building modifications to accommodate). The total estimate including walk-on roof with wall and elevator modifications is $500,000!! As you can imagine, this number raises red flags around the University.

We need a strong show of support from the department in order to keep an oncampus observatory in the planning process. We've been OK'd as a worthy fundraising goal, and we have an account set up to receive the funds, now we just need money (or at least pledges).

I'd love to have get at least $10,000 in pledges towards the observatory this summer. I'll even bite the bullet and issue a challenge: I will personally *match 1 for 4* the first $100 of each alumni's pledge - That is, for the first $100, I'll put up an additional $25. And I'll *match 1 for 10* the next $100. I will pledge matching funds up a total of $2500 - at one for four, that will be at least $12,500 towards our goal. Everyone who contributes at least $50 will get a department reunion T-shirt. For $100 or more, we'll also give you a "Space Update" CD. Of course, if you would rather give towards the "Dessler Fund" (to support awards to our best undergraduate), or to the"Gordon Award", we encourage that as well.

Patrick Lestrade has offered a challenge - see which *advisor's* students raise the most money!

So, see how much you can stiff me for! Let's show 100% participation! Let me know as soon as possible if you are willing to participate at *any* level, so I can tell the Dean (and the President) that we can show sigificant alumni support. We got $9000 from the University towards our reunion expenses. Let's try to return at least that much back for the observatory!

Larry Goeller has sent in $200, and he's technically not even an spac alumnus - he's a "Physics" alum. But of course we consider him, and all of the Stebbings/Dunning lab students, part of our extended family.

We have received over $3500 so far, including:

Rudy Frahm, $1000

John Benson, $1000

Wei Peng, $200

Rosemary Killen, $100

Patrick Lestrade, $100

Zheng Wen, $100

David Geller, $100

Russ Palma $100

Gary Hoogeveen $100

James Wooten $100

Shan Xue $50

(so I've already had to cough up nearly $300 in matching)

In addition, we are also have received so far a few checks from non-alumni, which are not eligible for matching but which are very very welcome!:

Robert Haymes $100 (professor emeritus)

Norma Cowley $100 (present staff member)

Umbe Cantu $240 (payroll deduction)

Ian Smith $100 (postdoc)

William Gordon $100 (professor emeritus)

Plus we have another $1300 in pledges which haven't arrived yet (unless they were sent directly to Development).

If you are able to participate, please make your check out to "Rice University" and put in the memo portion "Oncampus Observatory - G81732". You may either send it to Development or, better yet, to the department (MS 108) . If you send it to Development, please let us know so that you can be properly thanked! (Also, send along your t-shirt size and the address to send it to). Also, please let me know if you want to keep your donation anonymous - otherwise I'll brag on you!


SPACALUM email list:

We have set up a "spacalum" email list, for alumni *and friends* of the spac dept. We'd love to have you join up, so we can send you notices of new developments, new faculty openings, how to nominate alumni for awards the next time, etc. To join, just send email to

with the *text* of your message being

subscribe spacalum firstname lastname

where you replace "firstname lastname" with your first and last names, respectively

(I did "Ima Graduate" as the sample the first time, and guess what, several alumni are now in our list as "Ima Graduate"!)

The list is *moderated*, so I promise you won't get a bunch of spam. If you want to send something to the list, send it to and it will go to me for approval before it goes to the list.

thanks.... and I hope to hear from you soon!

...Pat Reiff

last modified: July 24, 1999