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My First Astronomy Classes: Robert Brownlee and R Scuti

I remember the very first day (September, 1950) that I taught the elementary course in descriptive astronomy, known formally as Descriptive Astronomy 12. The class numbered about thirty. Such a course is not easy to teach (especially the first time), because the concepts are quite new to most of the students; another part of the difficulty is clarifying old ideas that are imperfectly understood. My first astronomy question posed to the class was simply: "Which way is 'up'?" As I recall, none of the students could answer that question correctly; I'm sure this irritated some of them, because of the implication that "they were so dumb that they didn't know which way was up!" Thereafter I used this same question to commence every beginning class that I taught.

During that year I also taught Orbit Computation and Astrophysics to four astronomy majors including Robert Brownlee, a former B-29 navigator in the Pacific theatre of war, who had been a teaching assistant for Storer the previous year, and would become "my" first M.A. candidate student. Again, I was able to make use of my Yerkes connection, this time in the form of Dr. Bidelman, who kindly lent us a McDonald Observatory spectrogram of the variable supergiant R Scuti taken at minimum light. Brownlee made a thorough identification of the lines, which was quite an arduous job. It was necessary to do this via the various multiplets (thank goodness for the existence of the Russell-Moore tables!), and we all learned much from the experience. Brownlee received his M.A. in 1951, and then continued his studies at the University of Indiana for his Ph.D.

He then joined the Nuclear Testing Division (J-Division) of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, and participated in various air and underground tests, eventually becoming the Assistant J-Division Leader, and later the Earth Sciences (G-Division) Leader. Brownlee, now retired, lives with his wife Adeleah in Loveland, CO. They were married in 1943, and have five grown children, one of whom holds the rank of Captain in the Los Alamos Police Department.

My first summer at K.U. (1951, the same summer that Brownlee got his M.A.) was spent writing a paper on RZ Cassiopeia, a spectroscopic binary. Struve had taken 89 plates of this variable at the McDonald Observatory, measured the first two, and I had completed the rest just before leaving Yerkes. Then, at K.U., I calculated the orbital elements and their probable errors; in those days it required about a week to do this. I sent my preliminary manuscript to Struve as a joint paper with his name first, but in reply he insisted that I be the sole author; this was typical of his generosity. I remember that I worked very hard preparing the final version for publication, and I had just finished the touchy task of pasting my prints of typical spectra into position on one thicker-than-average page. I left the page on top my desk to dry, while I went to teach a class in the large lecture hall downstairs. When I returned, what did I find? Crossing some of my spectra was a lengthy ink blot that ruined my good work! I must have voiced the appropriate epithets, for I heard laughter from across the room, where Bob Brownlee and a couple of students were standing at the blackboard; they had tricked me by placing one of those confounded artificial "ink spots" on top my spectra!! The relief was immense, but I considered buying a "cat- o'- nine- tails" whip.


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