|Photo 1938, courtesy Prof. Whitford via John B. Hearnshaw|
|Albert Edward Whitford|
|22 October 1905||1996 Bruce Medalist||28 March 2002|
A 1921 graduate of Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin, Albert Whitford was a graduate student in physics at the University of Wisconsin when he found a job as assistant to astronomy professor Joel Stebbins. As Whitford described it, “One thing led to another: I made a successful device for measuring very small currents from photoelectric cells, with which he was measuring the light from stars and galaxies, and it brought me to Mt. Wilson Observatory helping him, and finally I became an astronomer without ever starting out to study it at all.” Whitford became an expert in photoelectric photometry, which he steadily improved, using vacuum-tube amplification and mounting photoelectric cells in a vacuum tank. Stebbins and Whitford used the new technology to measure the brightnesses of stars and galaxies and their spectra, making most of their observations at Mt. Wilson. Whitford returned to the University of Wisconsin in 1935 and, after work on radar at MIT during World War II, succeeded Stebbins as director of the Washburn Observatory in 1948. He and Stebbins continued to improve photoelectric photometry and extended it into the infrared. Whitford made extensive studies of the brighter galaxies and of interstellar extinction. At Wisconsin he founded the Pine Bluff Observatory and oversaw the construction of its 36-inch telescope. Whitford was appointed director of the Lick Observatory in 1958. There he put the Shane 3-m telescope into operation, supervised the move of the observatory headquarters to the campus of the new University of California, Santa Cruz, and began a study of stars near the galactic center. Whitford held many major administrative positions and chaired the committee that produced the first decennial volume of the astronomy community’s priorities for new instruments in 1964. He continued his research at UCSC into his nineties. In 1996 he returned to Madison, where he renewed an affiliation with the University of Wisconsin.
Presentation of Bruce medal
Mercury 13, 187 (1996).
American Astronomical Society, Henry Norris Russell Lectureship, 1986.
Some offices held
American Astronomical Society, President, 1967-70.
Dombrowski, Edmmund, Sethanne Howard, & Don Barry, “Profiles in Astronomy: Albert Whitford,” The Electronic Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Atlantic 1, 2 (1989).
Osterbrock, Donald E., Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 85, 336-63 (2004) [pdf].
Rich, R. Michael & D.M. Terndrup, “Bulges of Galaxies: A Celebration of the 90th Birthday of Albert Whitford,” PASP 109, 571-83 (1997).
Rich, R. Michael, Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers (Springer, NY, 2007), pp. 1214-15.
Whitford, A.E., “A Half-Century of Astronomy,” Ann. Rev. Astron. Astrophys. 24, 1-22 (1986).
Code, Arthur D., PASP 115, 1020-22 (2003).
Hearnshaw, John, Astronomy & Geophysics 43, 5.32-5.33 (2002).
Kraft, Robert P., Bull. Am. Astron. Soc. 34, 1387-90 (2002).
Oliver, Myrna, Los Angeles Times, 4 April 2002.
Osterbrock, Donald E., Physics Today 56, 1, 67-68 (2003).
Osterbrock, Donald E., University of California In Memoriam
Rich, R. Michael, The Independent (London), 20 April 2002.
Saxon, Wolfgang, New York Times, 4 April 2002.
Seals, Brian, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 3 April 20002
University of California, Santa Cruz
1968 photo, courtesy Prof. William Whitford
1986 photo, courtesy Lick Observatory
AIP Center for History of Physics (4 photos)
Named after him
Minor planet #2301 Whitford
|Please send comments, additions, corrections, and questions to