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Barry Neil Rappaport (1960–1996)

Published onDec 01, 1998
Barry Neil Rappaport (1960–1996)

Barry Rappaport undertook an amazingly diverse range of endeavors during his all-too-brief professional career. Yet from each could be traced his passion for astronomy and for helping others.

The son of Jean and Walter Rappaport, Barry was born in Brooklyn, New York and attended Solomon Schechter Day School in West Orange, New Jersey. In 1982, he was the only student at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) to graduate with an undergraduate major in astronomy.

Rappaport remained at CWRU to obtain an MS in Computer Science. There he applied his knowledge of computer data bases to a life-long interest in astronomy. His thesis project involved a feasibility study of creating star charts for the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung (as had been done for the Bonner Durchmusterung).

While employed at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (applying stellar navigation to spacecraft altitude control for NASA), Rappaport was given access to Caltech plotters that allowed him to complete the Cape Photographic Durchmusterung Atlas of 455,000 stars in 1982. The Cordoba Durchmusterung (600,000 stars) followed. Several hundred copies of these star atlases are housed at observatories and libraries around the world.

This effort led to Rappaport's co-authorship of the Uranometria 2000.0 (1987 and 1988) and The Deep Sky Field Guild to Uranometria (1993). The former charts 332,000 stars and 10,300 deep-sky objects. It was the first computer-plotted atlas designed for the general observer. Rappaport generated the charts, which required several thousand hours to finish.

Barry earned MS degrees in astronomy and electrical engineering in 1988 and 1989 from New Mexico State University (NMSU) for research on imaging-through-the-atmosphere, conducted at the army's Atmospheric Science Laboratory at White Sands Missile Range. He also taught computer engineering at NMSU.

In 1994, Rappaport received a PhD in electrical engineering from NMSU. The title of his dissertation was " Automated Reading of Electrophoresis and Southern Blots." The topic stemmed from his association with the Human Genome Lab at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

At the time of his death, Rappaport was senior director of genome information systems for Gene Logic, Inc. in Columbia, Maryland. At the same time, he was working on a future generation of star atlases, the first of their scale to be produced all-digitally. It is probable that Barry Rappaport was one of very few individuals to make contributions in mapping both the very large and the very small.

Barry enjoyed traveling throughout the world. He was as likely to be found skin diving in the Dead Sea as bungee jumping in New Zealand. He was an automobile enthusiast and fan of music, films, and the New York Yankees. As a student, Binyamin Natan ben Ze'ev v'Yehudit was president of his college Hillel Foundation. In Tae Kwo Do, he wore the black belt. Rappaport died on 31 July 1996 of an aortic aneurism, three days before his thirty-sixth birthday. He is survived by his parents and sister.

The author wishes to thank more than a dozen friends and colleagues of Barry Rappaport, who contributed to this tribute.

Photo (available in PDF version) courtesy of Jean Rappaport.

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