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Karl Walter Kamper (1941–1998)

Published onDec 01, 1998
Karl Walter Kamper (1941–1998)

John Irwin Slide Collection

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Karl Kamper, astrometrist, spectroscopist, and instrumentation scientist was born on 1941 April 20 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He earned a BSc with honors in astronomy from Georgetown University in 1963 and a PhD in astronomy from the University of Pittsburgh in 1973. Full time employment from 1969 onward accounted for the long time between degrees.

Karl was a Research Astronomer at Lick Observatory in 1969-70, going on to Van Vleck Observatory (Wesleyan University) as Research Associate and Lecturer (1970-71, 1973-74) and Instructor (1971-72). During the last year, he was also a Lecturer in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Western Connecticut State College.

Kamper came to the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) in 1974 as a postdoctoral research fellow, working with Sidney van den Bergh. A year later, he was appointed the photographer on the Observatory's permanent staff, though his responsibilities gradually extended to many other areas. His 1979 appointment to the status of Assistant Professor at University of Toronto permitted occasional teaching and the right to apply for research support. Karl taught courses in astronomy in 1974, 75, and 83 at Toronto. He was also a course director at Atkinson College of York University from 1975 to 1978. He served as a formal mentor to a number of summer students and informal one for both graduates and undergraduates who were working at DDO.

Karl was appointed Professional Engineering Officer at the Observatory in 1983, a position he held until his death. He was responsible for instrument design and testing, optical design, fabrication and testing, monitoring data quality, and eventually, supervision of the Observatory technical staff. In this capacity he was a central figure in both the conversion of the DDO 1.88 m telescope to electronic detectors and computer control and in making the Helen Sawyer Hogg Telescope at the University of Toronto Southern Observatory, an exceedingly productive small telescope.

Kamper was an astrometrist with a special interest in astrometric-spectroscopic and visual binaries, carrying out detailed studies on both archival and new plates. His collaboration with Sidney van den Bergh continued with the 1976 definitive proper motion study of the Cas A supernova remnant based on 25 years of data (extended to 40 years in later papers, and with observations in hand to extend the baseline even further when Karl died). They also analyzed and published the expansions of the optical remnants of Tycho's and Kepler's supernovae and MSH 15-52.

Among Karl's many other projects were: (1) high precision radial velocities of Polaris as its Cepheid pulsation declined (he and Don Fernie submitted a paper on this only three weeks before Karl's death), (2) radial velocities of a large sample of M dwarfs (with J. Harlow), leading to additional spectroscopic binaries, (3) use of the DDO PDS microdensitometer to measure astrometric plates, (4) a parallax for SS Cygni (one of very few for a cataclysmic variable), and (5) innovative forms of spectroscopy, including slitless spectroscopy of nebulae and "passive interspectroscopy" or speckle spectroscopy to separate the spectra of close binaries.

Karl was a wonderful storyteller, who could talk knowledgeably about almost anything and find humor and irony therein. No one could be sad or angry around Karl for long. He managed to find humor even in the various medical mis, adventures of his nine years with lymphoma. His strength, dignity, honesty, and good humor during this long period inspired all who knew him. Karl died on 1998 February 2 from liver cancer secondary to the lymphoma. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, children Kirsten and Brendan, parents Karl W. and Alberta, brother Albert, and dozens of friends who will never forget the joy he brought to their lives.

In addition to the AAS, Kamper belonged at various times to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the International Astronomical Union. It is expected that his scientific papers will be archived at DDO. The 1998 October 1 issue of their David Dunlap Doings will publish the remarks delivered at his memorial service.

Photo (available in PDF version) courtesy of David Dunlap Observatory.

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