The Edward Randall Jr, M.D. Centennial Professorship in Astronomy

Message from the President

The University is grateful to our most generous Anonymous Donor for establishment of the Edward Randall Jr., M.D., Centennial Professorship in Astronomy in the College of Natural Sciences. This endowment provides the means for The University to recognize outstanding faculty members whose work in the field of astronomy is of exceptional merit.

The goal of The University and the College of Natural Sciences is to achieve the highest standards of faculty performance. This Centennial Professorship, together with other endowed faculty positions, makes it possible to build and maintain a distinguished faculty dedicated to superior teaching, research and scholarship. On behalf of The University, I express appreciation to our benefactor.

Peter T. Flawn


Message from the Dean

The College of Natural Sciences and the Department of Astronomy are most grateful to receive the Edward Randall Jr., M.D., Centennial Professorship in Astronomy. This anonymous donation will help to assure the continued excellence of the astronomy faculty.

The Centennial Teachers and Scholars Program has received many contributions from generous individuals who believe in excellence in teaching and research in Texas. It is especially fitting that the name of Dr. Randall will be identified with the Department of Astronomy at this University. His interest in moving the boundaries of knowledge forward is reflected in the fundamental research undertaken in our astronomy program.

Robert E. Boyer

Edward Randall, Jr., M.D.

"Dr. Edward Randall Jr. was a man of vision, who believed in expanding the boundaries of knowledge and experience. He taught those he touched how to learn. He encouraged each person to their unique path without compromising his own strength of personality. In short, he was a good friend."

--The Anonymous Donor

The Professorship

In 1983, The University of Texas System Board of Regents established the Edward Randall, Jr., M.D., Centennial Professorship in Astronomy through the generosity of an anonymous donor.

Dr. Randall, now deceased, served on the faculty at The University of Texas Medical School in Galveston (UTMB) from the 1920s until his retirement in 1959. He was the only son of Dr. Edward Randall Sr., a founder of UTMB and a University of Texas Regent. Dr. Randall Sr. aided in the establishment of McDonald Observatory and chaired one of the sessions at its dedication in 1939.

Edward Randall, Jr. was born on October 5, 1891, the day the original UT Medical School in Galveston opened. He later graduated from Yale University, attended UTMB, and in 1917 received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, his father's alma mater. In 1918, he became the first Texas physician to be certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners. He spent several years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and served as Acting Chief of Medical Service at Walter Reed Hospital. Then, after a year of practicing in Dallas, he returned to Galveston to speciali2e in internal medicine.

Dr. Randall was appointed to the UTMB faculty in 1923 and was made professor of Therapeutics and Material Medica in 1927. He conducted particularly powerful research in fever therapy and helped establish the fever therapy unit in John Sealy Hospital. He taught in the medical school continuously until his retirement, when he was made Emeritus Professor of Medicine.

Among his numerous honors was the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1967. He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the American Medical Association, the American Society of Internal Medicine, Phi Rho Sigma medical fraternity and various other professional societies.

In addition, Dr. Randall succeeded his father in 1944 as a director of the Sealy and Smith Foundation for John Sealy Hospital, and served on that board until his death in 1971.

The First Recipient: Harlan Smith

In 1947, while still an undergraduate at Harvard, Harlan Smith was hired by Harvard Observatory to organize an expedition to photograph meteors in New Mexico. Smith was to assemble the team and help build the equipment for the meteor patrol, which would use cameras placed 20 miles apart in the desert; work was to begin in the summer of 1948.

In preparation for the project, Smith and a few others took over the recreation room at Harvard College Observatory. For more than a year, they put in 16-hour days on the project, often working long past the time the subways stopped running. Smith recalled getting some war surplus sleeping bags and putting them under the ping-pong table in the rec room, since, as he said, it was often easier just to stay there than to go home.

"We were totally dedicated to what we were doing," he added.

Harlan J. Smith

That kind of dedication is characteristic of Harlan Smith, who has been the Director of McDonald Observatory since 1963, and who is the person most responsible for its remarkable growth. Now, among many other achievements, Smith has been named the first Edward Randall Jr., M.D., Centennial Professor in Astronomy.

When Harlan Smith came to Texas in 1963, he already knew a little about McDonald Observatory. Eleven years earlier, in 1952, he and his wife Joan had taken a belated honeymoon summer drive across the country. During that extended car trip, they visited observatories and oriental art museum--and also worked with the meteor patrol that Smith had helped start, and that still photographed bits of vaporizing cometary dust flashing over the New Mexico desert.

After New Mexico, they swung eastward and, for a few days, they visited an isolated observatory in the Davis Mountains of West Texas. In those days, McDonald Observatory consisted of the 82-inch telescope and dome, plus a few mostly-empty houses scattered on top of Mount Locke. The second substantial telescope on Mount Locke, the 36-inch, would not be added for another few years.

At the time of the Smiths' first visit, McDonald Observatory was still operated jointly by The University of Texas and the University of Chicago, under a 30-year contract signed in 1932. The University of Texas owned the Observatory, but Chicago had the astronomers, and, for three decades, the two universities shared the facilities and equipment.

The young couple stayed at McDonald for three days, and, Smith recalled, "It was hard not to fall in love with the Observatory."

"That's one of the main reasons I came in 1963," he said later. "I already knew McDonald was a remarkable place."

Smith arrived the night before Labor Day 1963, to take over as Director of McDonald Observatory and Chairman of UT's fledgling Astronomy Department, now to be independent of Chicago. On the top floor of the old physics building, Painter Hall, he found a few offices that had been given to astronomy. There was a secretary, an engineer, a technician and a student employed in the darkroom. There were four faculty members--a very small group--and, Smith said, "The question was, what were we going to do about it?"

Before coming to UT, Smith had written a letter to Norman Hackerman, then the Vice-Chancellor of The University, listing five conditions for acceptance of the job. He called these five points "a building program" for astronomy at Texas. On arriving, Smith immediately set to work toward accomplishing these goals--and now, just over two decades later, it's possible to see that they have all been accomplished-- most of them with interest.

Point No. 1:

The faculty should be allowed to grow substantially in both depth and breadth, in order to be competitive and to take advantage of the facilities which McDonald Observatory offered.

"In those days, it was hard to get astronomers to even consider coming to Texas," said Smith. But he did get some to come, at first drawing on old New England connections and reaching outside the United States for new faculty members.

"The first really big breakthrough came in the late 1960s," he said, "when the National Science Foundation sponsored a program to generate new centers of academic excellence. Texas got the largest single grant, and this enabled us to create a new type of position, called 'faculty associate.' Bright young astronomers could be brought in as post-docs while also getting some teaching experience, and there was a reasonable budget to support their research. Later, if making the grade, they could move onto the regular academic promotion ladder."

In the mid-to-late-1960s, as a result of the Sputnik scare of 1957, traineeships from NASA and other graduate fellowships came fairly easily. Thus, at a time when research grants for UT astronomy had not yet grown to a large enough size to employ many research assistants, and when teaching was not yet up to employing many teaching assistants, it was still possible to begin building a much stronger graduate program--which today has become one of the largest and finest astronomy graduate programs in the world.

Also in the mid-60s, it became apparent to Smith that a large state university astronomy department needed very strong undergraduate involvement to remain healthy. "This, though, was coupled with my own 'missionary outlook'," he added, "that astronomy is a subject everyone should be exposed to."

Circa 1966. Seated from left to right: Frank Edmonds, Gerard de Vaucouleurs and Harlan Smith. Standing from left to right: Bill Jefferys, Jim Douglas, Terry Deeming, Neville Woolf, Andrew Young and Charles Seeger.

Toward this end, Smith hired several faculty members with the usual mandate for strong astronomical research--but with a particular injunction to build UT's undergraduate teaching program in astronomy. This approach succeeded so well that in a few years UT was teaching more undergraduate astronomy than any other institution.

Over the past decade, the size of the faculty has continued to increase, now numbering more than two dozen. The increase has included building breadth, with recent new positions especially in the areas of millimeter astronomy and infrared astronomy. There is also now a flourishing group of theoretical astrophysicists and, Smith said, "This area will be very important here as the years go by."

Point No. 2:

The physical facilities of the UT Astronomy Department and McDonald Observatory both needed substantial maintenance and upgrading.

Under Smith's leadership, the Austin astronomy program grew rapidly. It soon took over all of the fourth floor of Painter Hall. In the attic above, the astronomers carved out space for laboratories and computers, as well as a domain for their new colleagues in radio astronomy.

Faculty Retreat, October 1983. Kneeling from left to right: Neal Evans, Paul Vanden Bout, Ed Robinson, Paul Shapiro. Standing from left to right in first row: Gerard de Vaucouleurs, Jim Douglas, David Evans, Ed Nather, Harlan Smith and Bob Robbins. Second row: Frank Bash, Roman Smoluchowski, Frank Edmonds, Bill Jefferys and Greg Shields. Third row: David Lambert, Bob Tull, Paul Harvey, Tom Barnes and Craig Wheeler. Fourth row: Chris Sneden and Derek Wills. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Gessas.

By the end of the 1960s, the offices were so crowded that in several of them there was literally room only for walking sideways. Relief came in the form of the new Physics/Math/Astronomy Building, now named for Robert Lee Moore, which was dedicated in October 1973.

"When laying out the building in 1964," said Smith, "with enormous chutzpah we requested three whole floors! At that time we had only five faculty and not many more grad students. But of course our fine new quarters in RLM are already now much too small."

In the early 1960s McDonald Observatory at Mount Locke was in need of major maintenance for a built-in administrative/structural reason. The problem was that Texas owned the Observatory but had scarcely used it, because Texas had no astronomy program for most of the 30-year contract with the University of Chicago. Chicago had the astronomers and so used the Observatory--but didn't own it. Thus, in the latter years of the contract, neither university had a strong motivation to maintain and build up McDonald.

Smith immediately began working to rejuvenate the 82- inch telescope, first with support from UT, and later with additional help from NASA. But most of the effort to upgrade the facilities on Mount Locke focused around the goal of building a new large telescope.

Point No. 3:

McDonald Observatory needed a substantially larger and more modern telescope.

In the fall of 1963, Smith actively began planning for the future 107-inch telescope. He wrote a proposal to NASA suggesting that a new large telescope at McDonald might be partly dedicated to Solar System studies, to pave the way for visits to the planets by future spacecraft.

NASA ultimately did support approximately two-thirds of the cost of the 107-inch telescope and instrumentation. with UT and the National Science Foundation funding the remainder. The 107-inch telescope was dedicated in 1969.

McDonald Observatory in 1939. Photo courtesy of the E. O. Goldbeck Collection, Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

During this same period, McDonald became one of the first observatories to start making extensive use of the new-fangled gadgets called computers, partly to control telescopes and equipment, but particularly to gather and handle data in ways far surpassing anything possible before.

In the late 1960s, the TQ (Transients' Quarters) for visiting astronomers was added to the top of Mount Locke, and in the early 1970s the 30-inch telescope was built, its mirror coming from the core of the 107-inch mirror, cut out to allow focused starlight to reach the Cassegrain position at the back of that telescope.

McDonald Observatory in 1984. Photo courtesy of Kathryn Gessas.

This surge of activity at McDonald sharply increased needs for staff and equipment. The Observatory now required a number of high-level engineers and technicians, so The University of Texas System Board of Regents made money available to build 15 houses at the base of Mount Locke.

Since then, McDonald Observatory has also gained the W. L. Moody, Jr. Visitors' Information Center, dedicated in 1980--along with such amenities as a recreation area with a tennis court and swimming pool.

One of the first projects taken on by the 107-inch telescope was lunar laser ranging. In this program, the precise momentary distance between Earth and Moon can be measured by means of laser light fired through the telescope. Some of the light photons bounce off special retroreflector panels placed on the lunar surface by Apollo astronauts, and a tiny fraction of the photons actually return to the telescope, where the roundtrip flight time of the light can be measured.

The original lunar laser ranging operation was designed and constructed in 1969. It has been the only successful program of its kind in the world.

Building on that initial strength, a group under Eric Silverberg designed and built the world's only successful highly transportable satellite ranging system, TLRS (Transportable Laser Ranging System).

Now a second 30-inch telescope at McDonald Observatory is dedicated to laser ranging--and Texas is far in the lead in ranging studies, which have profound implications in the areas of cosmology and general relativity as well as in geodynamics.

Point No. 4:

McDonald Observatory and the UT Astronomy Department would benefit from an active radio astronomy group, and from the cross-fertilization of optical and radio work.

Radio astronomy was born during the Great Depression and was still a young science in the 1950s. In the late 1950s, when Smith was teaching at Yale, he was approached by two physics graduate students who wanted to transfer to the Astronomy Department and work in radio astronomy. Smith told them, "There are only four faculty members here, and none of us know anything about radio astronomy!" They replied, "You know astronomy, and we know radio. Let's put it together and make it work."

One of those young men was James Douglas, who, for several years, had been president of the Yale ham radio operators club. Smith and Douglas worked together to build equipment and gather data, primarily from the planet Jupiter--a more powerful radio source. As Smith said, "Jim was the brains . . . and I was the field crew."

This work got Douglas deep into radio astronomy, and a couple of years after Smith came to Texas, Douglas followed.

Douglas had an idea for a new kind of radio telescope which would accurately pinpoint the locations of faint radio sources--most of them radio galaxies or quasars--in all parts of the sky. Smith supported his idea, and the result is The University of Texas Radio Astronomy Observatory (UTRAO), whose Two-Mile Telescope is located near Marfa, Texas. This telescope has been at work on a uniquely good survey of objects which, Smith said, will become the fundamental catalog--almost a Bible--of the radio sky for decades to come.

Around the same time, McDonald Observatory became affiliated with another kind of radio telescope, one which detects millimeter waves from cold clouds of gas and other objects in space.

The millimeter wave telescope now at Mount Locke was originally at the Balcones Research Center in Austin. It was moved to McDonald in the early 1970s after a series of negotiations carried out by Paul Vanden Bout.

Today, the millimeter telescope is operated jointly by McDonald and The University of Texas Electrical Engineering Department. The telescope is now used almost exclusively for astronomy. [Note: Since the production of this brochure, the millimeter telescope facility has been closed as obsolescent--whj]

Point No. 5:

There should be eventual support, when it becomes appropriate, for expanding into space astronomy.

"I had originally thought we would have a space sciences laboratory here," said Smith, "but instead we ended up with a great deal of individual involvement in space astronomy."

Some McDonald astronomers have worked with instruments on space probes to the planets. But UT's greatest involvement in space astronomy has come with the plans for the Space Telescope, which is due for launch aboard the space shuttle in 1986.

In the early planning for Space Telescope, NASA set up five teams of scientists to work with the Telescope's five major instruments. Approximately 50 scientists from various institutions would eventually join these teams.

"When the dust settled, eight of those scientists came from UT astronomy programs. That's by far the most from any single institution," said Smith.

The most . . . the best . . . the brightest . . . Harlan Smith is a man who likes to use superlatives.

His vision, energy and hard work have brought about incredible changes at McDonald Observatory since his arrival in 1963. More than any other single individual, he has built the Observatory, which today is one of the world's great centers for research in the science of the Universe.

"I should mention," said Smith near the end of a long conversation, "that in the late 1960s I became aware that several groups on campus had their own advisory councils. I thought that surely McDonald Observatory deserved one, too--and with strong support from President Hackerman, we formed the first McDonald Advisory Council in 1969."

This group today is called the McDonald Observatory and Department of Astronomy Board of Visitors.

In 1971, Smith introduced at a Council meeting a list of items needed by the Observatory for it to remain in the forefront of world observatories.

The last item on the list was a $50 million giant telescope.

Not printed at public expense.

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