A quick biography: Robert Stencel is the William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy at Denver University. He became interested in Astronomy as a result of Sputnik, and was fortunate to have as a mentor during high school Ed Halbach, one of the founders of the Astronomical League. Following graduate study in astronomy at the University of Michigan, Dr. Stencel worked at NASA Houston and Greenbelt sites and NASA Headquarters in Washington DC, prior to joining Denver University in 1993 where he teaches astronomy and astrophysics. He is also the Director of the DU Observatories: Chamberlin and Mt.Evans. Back A few credentials: Dr. Robert E. Stencel: William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy, Univeristy of Denver Director, Chamberlin and Mt.Evans Observatories Member, American Astronomical Society, International Astronomical Union Colorado Coordinator for the International Dark-sky Association Member, AAS committee on Light Pollution, Radio Interference and Space Debris Receipient 2002 Astronomical League's National Young Astronomer Award --- A few milestones: 1977 PhD Astronomy, U of Michigan, Ann Arbor & Married Susan C. Conat 1983 Staff Scientist, NASA HQ & birth of daughter, Claire 1993 Named William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy, U of Denver 1997 First light, Mt. Evans Meyer-Womble Observatory 2001 Helped pass State of Colorado Light Pollution statute & Named Patron Member of the Astronomical League 2002 Launch of the Student Telescope Network 2003 Installation of the Student Astronoomy Laboratory telescope on campus --- More biography: Robert Stencel likes to brag about being born "near the center of the northern half of the western hemisphere" at 45N, 90W (1950, near Wausau, WI). His interest in astronomy and space science was kindled with the flight of Sputnik (1957). He obtained his B.S. in Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1972, and his PhD in Astronomy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1977, where he met his wife Susan. His thesis concerned spectroscopy of evolved stars, under the direction of Richard Teske and Richard Canfield. Typical of the times, he spent a long time in postdoctoral jobs working with the International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite, including National Research Council appointments at NASA Johnson and NASA Goddard, JILA - U of Colorado and a stint as a Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters. The NASA HQ job featured starts for the Astro mission of Shuttle-based telescopes, and the launch of the Astrophysics Theory Program. In 1985, he joined the U of Colorado Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy as its first Executive Director, while also developing new research interests in infrared astronomy. In 1992 he accepted a faculty position at the University of Denver as the first William Herschel Womble Professor of Astronomy. The bequest charged him to pursue "educational astrophysics and to develop, equip and operate a mountaintop observatory". Soon thereafter came the rehabilitation of Denver's historic Chamberlin Observatory (1894), the construction of the new Meyer-Womble Observatory atop 14,268 ft elevation Mt.Evans in Colorado (1997), and the outfitting of a new Student Astronomy Lab with rooftop telescope on campus (2001). During the same interval, two thermal infrared astronomical instruments were developed at Denver -- an imager/polarimeter (TNTCAM) and spectrometer (TGIRS). In addition to these activities, there always seemed to be time for experiments in renewable energy sources for Mt.Evans observatory, archaeoastronomy, and political activity to address light pollution problems in Colorado. Other unfunded research and hobbies include the history of Denver astronomy and works of James Joyce.
A student recently asked me:
"Can you give me a brief explanation as to how your occupation helps the nation?"
Thanks for asking. Astronomy inspires and challenges. Since ancient times, people have learned to use the stars for time and calendar keeping. Movements of the planets inspired theories of gravitation, and helped promote physics and engineering, and continue to offer extreme tests for both -- relativity/cosmology and spaceflight. Finally, astronomy gives us "the biggest picture" of the universe and our place in it, and provides lessons about why we should take better care of this special planet we depend upon, starting with finding cures for light pollution. In addition, there are two more ways in which astronomers directly can help society: searching for potentially hazardous near earth asteroids and challenging light pollution problems.
==Here are a few more typical student questions==
+What is the official title of your job? W.H.Womble Professor of Astronomy and Director of U of Denver Observatories
+How long have you been on this job? Since 1992.
+How did you first get invovled with this kind of work? My first paid work in astronomy was as an undergraduate grader in the Dept. Astronomy, University of Wisconsin - Madison.
+What are some of the major tasks that you do in your work? Teaching classes, pursuing astronomical research, instrument development, public outreach and service.
+What training or education is required for this job? Ph.D in astronomy or physics is typically expected of applicants for this type of employment.
+What gives you the most satisfaction in the work you are doing?
+What do you like most about your job? What do you like the least? The joy of discovery and sharing/discussing new ideas with students. Sometimes the long hours are a problem.
+How does your job affect what you do in your home and social life? As for most people, it's a balancing act to insure that all bases are covered.
+How has technology influenced your career? The role of computers in problem solving and simulating is essential now.
+Can you give me an example of a math problem you use in your career? Solutions for orbits are often challenging, tho many established methods exist. Solutions for radiative transfer require elaborate computer codes, and nowadays, coupled radiation transfer and plasma hydrodynamics can be done.
+If you could re-live your life, would you still pick this career? Why or Why not? Probably stick with astronomy but have chosen additional math and physics coursework. What future work or career goals do you have? Watch this space: infrared studies of evolved stars including interferometric methods.
+What do you feel is the most significant or pressing problem in your field? There are at least 4: the nature of dark matter/energy in the universe; existence of life elsewhere than earth; finding asteroids that pose a hazard to life on earth; educating about the dangers of light pollution.
+What do you think the most impotant things that a person who is considering going into this kind of work should know about? Astronomy today is not simply stargazing, but involves math and physics in a central way in order to make a contribution. It requires dedication and hard work, but the rewards can be substantial. For details, visit website www.aas.org and choose Career Services link and read the Career Brochure aimed at high school students considering a career in astronomy.
+What is your estimated population of people in this field?
There are about 5,000 professional astronomer members of the American Astronomical Society.
+What is your opinion about what my generation should do in this field?
Your generation will need to make that decision, but the universe beckons and will not be ignored....
Thanks for asking!