Western Slope Skies: Women in Astronomy

May 22, 2015

Women in Astronomy – Sydney Wolff

This is a continuing series on Women in Astronomy.  Today we meet Sidney Wolff.

Sidney Wolff became interested in astronomy when a spelling test in the third grade featured several astronomical words. Her father, a businessman, encouraged her to take math courses, because math is so important to the physical sciences, including astronomy. She received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Carleton College in Minnesota with an emphasis on astronomy.

Dr. Wolff received her PhD from Cal-Berkeley and then took a position with the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii. At that time, there were no large research telescopes in Hawaii. The Institute decided to ‘think outside the box’ and pushed through the selection of Mauna Kea for the design and construction of a 2.2 meter telescope. Mauna Kea is almost 14,000 feet in elevation and is still considered one of the finest astronomical locations in the world. There are now 13 telescopes on Mauna Kea.

Credit National Optical Astronomy Observatory

In 1991, Dr. Wolff was appointed Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona. She was the first woman appointed to this position. During her directorship, six premier telescopes in the world were constructed at various NOAO partner locations. She has also been director of Kitt Peak Observatory, as well as President of the American Astronomical Society.

She is the founding editor of Astronomy Education Review, the online journal of space science education, published by the American Astronomical Society.  

She received the American Astronomical Society Education Award in 2006.

She is an acknowledged expert in the evolution and composition of spectral class A stars.

Dr. Wolff is now the president of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Corporation. The LSST is an 8.4 meter telescope with a 3 BILLION pixel camera, the world’s largest digital camera. It is under construction in Chile.

Western Slope Skies is produced by members of the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Bryan Cashion.