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Harold H. Lane (1910–1993)

Published onSep 01, 1996
Harold H. Lane (1910–1993)

Many astronomers remember Harold Lane for his untiring service to our community at the National Science Foundation's Astronomy Section. Lane had been interested in astronomy from his early childhood. Son of a construction contractor in Barre, Vermont, he and relatives were amateur astronomers, building a telescope together and attending the annual Springfield star party known as Stellafane.

Born in Barre in 1910, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Dartmouth in 1931 and was a university scholar at Harvard from 1931 to 1933, receiving his masters degree in 1932. From 1933 to 1935 he was assistant astronomer at Harvard, moving to Amherst in 1935 as instructor in physics and astronomy, returning to Dartmouth in 1937 to teach astronomy. In 1942 he left for war work as ground instructor for Northeast Airlines, teaching flight navigation to military students at the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.

In 1944 he taught physics at Middlebury for a year and then entered Yale to complete his Ph.D. in 1948, earning his way as an assistant observer. Then he moved to Colgate as assistant professor of astronomy, rising to associate professor in 1953. He left Colgate in 1962 to join the National Science Foundation where he served for two decades in a number of capacities as NSF grew. Starting in the old Astronomy Program, Lane helped handle all the areas of astronomy under one organizational unit. When the Astronomy Program split into specialties he became Program Director for Stellar Systems and Motions, and Solar System Astronomy and Solar Physics.

As director for the solar system program, Lane acted as liaison to other related NSF programs such as the Solar Terrestrial Program of the Division of Atmospheric Sciences. He was especially concerned that increased support be available at times of maximum solar activity in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Once the National Centers were created, Lane became involved in various AURA activities serving, among other duties, as member of countless ad hoc advisory committees on the management of these facilities and performing site visits. He also was involved in modifying the Section's budget narrative when Ford Foundation support for a southern hemisphere observatory was secured, which he recalled was a particularly exciting time for the Section.

Just before he joined NSF he took a sabbatical at the University of Arizona to work on flare stars, experimenting with automatic means of photoelectrically detecting these stars. Harold Lane Jr., his eldest son, assisted him with the electronics. Using a surplus portable Air Force sky-glow telescope, Lane failed to detect flares before he left for his new life at NSF, although he maintained an interest in variable star research.

Lane married Ruth Humble in 1943 and they had two sons, Harold Jr., in 1945, and Myles, in 1952. He was very much a teacher and explainer to his children, had a life-long passion for nature, science, classical music and birding, and would often take his children out to view the sky from where they lived in Northwest Washington, D.C. After his retirement in 1980, Lane volunteered at the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoo in the Bird Lab. He died of prostate cancer in 1993. His friends will remember him as a quiet, kind and self-less person who was devoted to astronomy, the community of astronomers, and to his work at NSF.

This notice was compiled from documents and recollections provided by Goetz K. Oertel, Myles Lane, Nancy G. Roman and Frank K. Edmondson, who interviewed Lane in 1979.

Photo available in PDF version.


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