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Molecular Spectroscopy: James Hesser

James E. Hesser was an astronomy major at K.U., but he did not continue in our master's program. Instead he was able to take advantage of a new program established at Princeton University that dealt mainly with molecular spectroscopy. Dr.Kurt Dressler was the primary staff member, and later became Distinguished Research Professor of Physical Chemistry at ETH, Zürich, Switzerland. I remember Jim's plight quite well, when as a senior he realized that to work effectively in spectroscopy at Princeton he would need to know more about the subject than was usually offered to undergraduates at K.U. I was acquainted with an interesting text book written by R.H.Atkin (University of London) titled Mathematics and Wave Mechanics (Heinemann, 1959) that covered quantum mechanics and chemistry in a very logical fashion, and I suggested that he enroll in our astrophysics reading course, and go straight through the book. We could then meet a couple of times a week and discuss the material together. Jim persevered, and the two of us learned a lot; and even uncovered some mistakes (at least we thought we did). The two of us worked a lot harder than I had intended. Apparently things worked out at Princeton, because he and Dressler published many papers together. Jim obtained both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Astrophysical Sciences, his Ph.D. thesis being Absolute Transition Probabilities in Ultraviolet Molecular Spectra (1966; advisor Kurt Dressler). The thesis volume, a copy of which was kindly sent to me, is an inch thick and 138 pages long!

He has since worked at the Cerro Tololo Observatory, Chile, and participated on various projects, e.g.: the co-discovery of ZZ Ceti, the prototypical variable white dwarf which varies periodically at 213 and 273 seconds, and studies of stellar populations in the Milky Way and globular clusters. Presently Jim is the principal investigator using the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the ages of star clusters in the extreme outer part of the Milky Way (twice as far as the Magellanic Clouds) in order to determine how our galaxy might have formed. In the last decade or so he has become active in public outreach to schools, service clubs, etc., which was recognized by a national award in 1997. His formal position now is Director, Optical Astronomy Programme and Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (HIA), National Research Council of Canada, Victoria, B.C. For information on the HIA refer to http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/eng/index.html.

Dr.Hesser is married to Betty Hinsdale, whom he met in 1963 in Dr. Storer's class during his last semester at K.U., and they have three daughters. Betty has a degree in linguistics from the University of Victoria. Jim writes as follows: "In many ways my K.U. years were idyllic. This is perhaps a common reaction when people reach their late fifties and look back! I was exposed to outstanding professors who showed by their actions what truly great teachers are. Although I was later privileged to attend another great university, I never encountered better examples of teachers than those I remember from K.U.: Edward Ruhe (English), Marilyn Stokstad (art history), Arnold Strassenburg (physics), Sam Anderson (German and Russian), and Henry Horak. My cultural horizons were expanded enormously through the music, drama, and film events available for students from around the world. My Scholarship Hall experiences were extremely educational, again often through opportunities to interact with foreign students. My wife Betty has demonstrated great fortitude over the past thirty-five years, and has made life worthwhile. Shortly after leaving K.U. the tragedy and utter madness of the Vietnam war enveloped the U.S. and many changes, most that I view negatively, to our North American society and its educational systems began to unfold."


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