Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Aden Meinel, "The Great Man" passes at age 88

The hits started coming in a couple days ago and still continue today at about one per hour - Google directing folks looking for "Aden Meinel" to our little blog.  If you do the same search, we're the third Google entry after the National Optical Astronomy Observatories and the Wikipedia entry.  Turns out that I posted about Aden Meinel's visit to Tucson about 18 months ago, as part of Kitt Peak National Observatory's 50th anniversary.  Lots of hits can only mean one or two things, but in this case, we learned yesterday he died on Sunday at his home in Henderson, Nevada.

His meager entry in Wikipedia reveals little of his giant stature in Tucson.  He was director of Yerkes and McDonald Observatory when he was put in charge of the search for, and served as founding director of the national observatory which was chosen to be atop Kitt Peak, about 50 miles SW of Tucson.  After the dedication of that institution, he went on to be the third director of Steward Observatory, and from there went on to establish and serve as director of the Optical Sciences Center (now bearing his name) at the University of Arizona.  And that is to say nothing of the plethora of research papers he and wife Marjorie published in optics, telescope design, space, spectroscopy and solar power.

Arguably, he is the reason that for many decades, Tucson was considered to be the center of astronomical research, and the reason it is still called "Optics Valley", from the effects still felt by locating of Kitt Peak National Observatory and OSC within a city block of Steward Observatory..  Having worked at all 3 institutions he served, I can honestly say that without his leadership, would I even be located in Tucson?  A valid question, for which an answer is not forthcoming.

I met Aden only briefly on 2 occasions, but am overjoyed I was able to hear his presentation last year on why Kitt Peak was chosen.  It was magical to be transported back those 50 years and look over his shoulder to the home movies and photos he took on that first horseback ride up the mountain.  He told the story of that frigid November night and the return trip fall off his horse, breaking his arm, doing little to blunt his enthusiasm for the place, which still excites me as well.  We've lost a true visionary, and the great institutions that line the intersection of Cherry and University on the UA campus are perhaps a lasting tribute.

1 comment:

Stephanie Scott said...

Hi, Great tribute there! I'm collecting all the tributes of my Dad for the Meinel family & friends and relatives. I'm compiling and editing his autobiography which hopefully will be printed as soon as I find a press. Glad you got to meet him. Could you send off a photo of the Meinel building to me? I'd like the optical glass side for one of the covers for the book series. Thanks! my email-

Barbara Meinel