Robert Victor Stachnik died suddenly on November 29, 2014 at his home in Newark, DE. He was 67. The cause was a stroke.
Bob was one of the pioneers of astronomical speckle interferometry. Acting on a proposal of Antoine Labeyrie's, Bob, Dan Gezari, also a Stony Brook grad student, and Antoine implemented the technique at the 200-inch and presented their first results in “Speckle Interferometry: Diffraction-Limited Measurements of Nine Stars with the 200-inch Telescope”, 1972, ApJ, 173, 1. Bob defended his thesis on "Astronomical Applications of Speckle Interferometry” in 1976. He immediately took a position as Electro-Optical Scientist at the Itek Corp. While there he formed a fruitful collaboration with Pete Nisenson. Together they demonstrated applications of speckle interferometry to measurements of the atmospheric isoplanatic patch and to images of the Sun. In 1978, Bob moved to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and collaborated with his colleagues there on novel implementations and applications of speckle interferometry. Bob joined the Astrophysics Division of NASA as Senior Scientist in 1986. Those were the heady days of the "Great Observatories'' at NASA HQ (HST was launched in 1990). In 1996, Bob, his wife Mary Ellen, and son Alexander moved to Delaware to run her family's business, Testex, Inc. Bob served as Chief Scientist until his death. Testex was founded by his late father-in-law, Joseph McNutt III. Its product is simplicity itself, a replica tape used to measure surface roughness. It is used worldwide to assess the quality of painted surfaces. Bob became an expert in his second career and was active in the groups that write standards for ASTM, NACE, SSPC, and ISO.
Bob's escape from the pressure-cooker of Washington provided opportunities to pursue two avocations, liberal politics and travel. Travel for Testex business enabled add-on vacation time. Bob was a founding member and among the leaders of at least two political groups, one oriented toward the Howard Dean for President campaign and more recently the Progressive Democrats for Delaware.
Bob was born on March 30, 1947 in Yonkers, NY, the son of Victor Stachnik, an electrical engineer, and Catherine Roddin, a secretary. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son Alexander, two brothers Joseph and Richard, and a sister Marion Weston. He majored in astronomy at Villanova. Following graduation in 1969, he began graduate study at Stony Brook in its nascent Astronomy Program.
The Progressive Democrats for Delaware obituary for Bob characterizes him as “Delaware's Quiet Lion of Liberalism.” “Quiet Lion” indeed--every one of the steps in Bob's life took nerve, determination, optimism, and a warm heart.
Photo: Left to right, Antoine Labeyrie, Dan Gezari, and Bob at the coude focus of the Palomar 200-inch telescope in the early 1970's. Their “speckle camera” was built by them and was probably the first of its kind.