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Frank Bradshaw Wood (1915–1997)

Published onDec 01, 1998
Frank Bradshaw Wood (1915–1997)

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives,
John Irwin Slide Collection

On December 10, 1997, the day before he was going to be 82, Frank Bradshaw (Brad) Wood passed away in Gainesville, Florida. With Brad, the world has lost one of the most outstanding astronomers of the present century in the field of close binaries.

Brad was born in Jackson, Tennessee. He received a BS in Physics at the University of Florida in 1936, and MA and PhD degrees in Astronomy from Princeton in 1940 and 1941. His dissertation, published as Contribution No. 21 of the Princeton University Observatory (1946), was carried out under Raymond Smith Dugan for three years until Dugan's death, and then under Henry Norris Russell, two of the great names in American astronomy — "the photometrist" and "the theoretician" as Brad called them in the dedication of one of his books.

Wood was essentially a photometrist himself—although we find among his publications some excursions in satellite spectrographic work—but a photometrist who was always deeply concerned with the cases that depart from regular, predicted behavior and with finding an explanation for them, in terms of mass loss and the evolution of the pairs. His numerous review articles illustrated that driving force behind his research. The interest arose out of Dugan's photometric results, showing the need to find explanations for the existence of so many cases of irregular period variation among the eclipsing variable stars. Brad's 1950 paper in the Astrophysical Journal showed that, with only one exception, such variations occurred for stars "at or near the limits of dynamical stability," and he proposed mass loss as the cause.

Brad Wood was (a) an extremely careful and innovative researcher, with an inquisitive and open mind; (b) a teacher, in the truest sense of the word; (c) an astronomer who was eager to promote and to make easier for others the pursuit of research in his own field of interest; (d) a good-humored, kind, and trustworthy person; (e) a true, loyal friend; and also a scientist who was extremely pleasant to work with.

"In recognition of his lifetime of work on close binary systems, in general, and Algols, in particular," the proceedings of IAU Colloquium 107 (held in Sydney, BC, Canada in August 1988) were dedicated to Brad. In addition to nearly 100 papers and books, he "produced" a large number of students. An incomplete list of those who are still AAS members (many of whom have also made major contributions to binary star astronomy) includes Robert Koch, Laurence Fredrick, Kyong-Chol Chou, Robert E. Wilson, James Gleim, Yoji Kondo, George McCluskey, Il-Seong Nha, Edward Guinan, Kam-Ching Leong, George McCook (University of Pennsylvania), Donald Martins, Norman Markworth, Bruce Rafter, and Christopher Harvel (University of Florida).

Wood worked a short time as a research assistant at Princeton University (1937-1938, and 1946) and at Northwestern University in the summers of 1938 and 1939. He spent 1941-1946 with the US Navy, receiving an Air Medal in recognition of his contributions. After three years (1947-1950) as assistant professor and assistant astronomer at University of Arizona, he joined the staff of the University of Pennsylvania, moving from associate professor and executive director of the observatories (1950-1954) to professor and director of the observatories (1954-1968). Wood moved to the University of Florida as professor and director (1968-1989) and held the title Professor Emeritus thereafter. He was also associate chairman of astronomy 1971-1976.

Brad held a large number of fellowships throughout his career: Steward Fellow at the University of Arizona (1938-1939), Thaw (1939-1940) and Proctor (1940-1941) Fellowships at Princeton; an NRC Fellowship (at several observatories 1946-1947); a NATO Senior Fellowship at University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand (1973-1974), Fulbrights at Mount Stromlo Observatory (1957-1958) and at the Instituto de Astronomica y Fisica del Espacio, Buenos Aires, Argentina (1977), where we had the privilege of a very pleasant and fruitful visit of several months. F.B. Wood was, in addition, a visiting professor or lecturer, or scientist for the AAS (from 1960 onward) and the Florida Academy of Sciences (from 1972 onward).

Brad was active in the International Astronomical Union, serving the Commission on Close Binary Stars (42) as Chairman of its Committee on Coordinated Programs (1955-1967), a member of its Organizing Committee (1961-1976), and President (1967-1970). In addition, he was also deeply involved in Commission 38 (Exchange of Astronomers), as its Secretary (1964-1974), Vice-President (1979-1982), and President (1982-1985).

In addition to the AAS, Brad was a member of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian Astronomical Society, and the Astronomical Society of Australia, and an honorary member of the Florida Academy of Sciences and of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. He had also been initiated into the honorary societies Sigma Xi, Phi Beta Kappa, and Phi Kappa Phi.

F.B. Wood was a very active scientist, who left an imprint all over the place. He was responsible for the establishment of the Flower and Cook Observatories at the University of Pennsylvania, helped, in various ways, the development of an active observatory in the southern hemisphere, and encouraged amateurs in observing and publishing times of minima of eclipsing variables. He was also instrumental in promoting and supporting an automated photometric telescope at the South Pole, and thus, in 1968, he became a member of the Advisory Group on Polar Astronomy to the Committee of Polar Research of the US National Academy of Sciences, taking the first telescope to the South Pole in 1984 where he observed the brightest Wolf-Rayet star in the sky, γ2 Velorum, publishing the results in 1988.

Frank Bradshaw Wood was happily married to Elizabeth Hoar Pepper, who survives him, together with their four children, Ellen, Eunice, Mary, and Stephen. The family, his friends, students, and colleagues will miss and remember him with deep affection and much admiration

Photo (available in PDF version) courtesy of Robert Koch.

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