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Robert J. Chambers (1930–1995)

Published onSep 01, 1996
Robert J. Chambers (1930–1995)

Robert Chambers, Director of Brackett Observatory and professor of astronomy at Pomona College, was born on 23 September 1930. After graduating from the University of Washington in mechanical engineering, he served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War before entering graduate work in astronomy at Berkeley, where he received his PhD in 1964.

Bob joined the Pomona College faculty in 1963 where astronomy had been taught since the College's founding in 1887. In his thirty years at Pomona, about one-third of the College students took his perennially popular course for nonscience majors, Introduction to Astronomy. He was a valued mentor to upper-division astronomy and physics students, several of whom became professional astronomers. His down-to-earth good humor and bemused tolerance of lengthy mathematical proofs enlivened lecture topics from planetary surfaces to rigid-body rotation. In recognition of his contributions, Bob was twice awarded the Wig Distinguished Teaching Award.

From 1968 to 1973, Bob served as Academic Director for the summer science program in astronomy held at the Thacher School in Ojai, CA. During each summer, he introduced 36 highly-motivated high-school seniors to the wonders and mysteries of astronomy, from observing to Laplacian orbit reduction. Many of those students describe the Thacher SSP as one of the most influential educational experiences of their lives, and several have become astronomers.

Bob worked tirelessly to improve the observational facilities and instrumentation at Pomona. In 1976, with the assistance of the Harry G. Steele Foundation, he augmented the college's observatory with a 22-inch Cassegrain. His real dream, though, was a research-grade instrument at a dark site well away from the light pollution of Los Angeles County. That dream was realized in 1990, with "first light" in a 1-meter reflector located at the Table Mountain Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains.

After retiring, Bob returned to an earlier love, optical instrument design, working as an engineering specialist at the Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo. He maintained his interest in Table Mountain Observatory, and led several eclipse cruises and field trips for Pomona College alumni, including the very well-attended 1991 Baja California eclipse. He died of cancer on 18 June 1995. His was a voice of moderation and common sense in the physics department and Pomona College as a whole, and he is greatly missed by his colleagues and former students.


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