Biographical Sketch of Laura “Pat” Bautz (1940 - 2014)Biographical Sketch of Laura “Pat”...

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Transcript of Biographical Sketch of Laura “Pat” Bautz (1940 - 2014)Biographical Sketch of Laura “Pat”...

  • Biographical Sketch of Laura “Pat” Bautz (1940 - 2014) Laura “Pat” Bautz (1940 - 2014) became an astronomer in the usual way, by studying physics and mathematics in college. But it wasn’t quite as simple as that. Society in the late 1950s still presented some obstacles, which Pat experienced personally, to women with scientific ambitions: she was actively discouraged from taking mathematics at her first college, where it was considered inappropriate for female students. Undeterred, Pat overcame that problem by switching to Vanderbilt University, where she majored in physics. Pat’s interest in astronomy may have originated during an early trip from her hometown of Baltimore to the American west with the family of a friend. Her friend’s father was an astronomer (Prof. John Strong of Johns Hopkins), and their visits to western observatories likely produced some impression on Pat, who was still in high school at the time. Yet it was not until her senior year as a physics major at Vanderbilt that Pat finally took an astronomy course. This apparently confirmed any earlier interest she had felt in the field, because upon receiving her physics degree from Vanderbilt she immediately entered the graduate program in the Astronomy Department at the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin certainly had a history of involving women in astronomy. Like many other observatories, Washburn Observatory typically employed women as “computers” to carry out data reduction in the days when most of that work was still human powered. Unlike many observatories, Washburn could point to at least one observational astronomer, Alice Lamb, who had operated the meridian circle telescope for a few years until 1887. But there were no women as Ph.D. candidates until about 1960, when suddenly there were quite a few. By 1963, the four women in the graduate program constituted 25% of the Astronomy Department’s graduate students--a sudden female presence that merited a press release from the UW News Service. That shift in graduate student demographics reflected the growing social acceptance of women in the sciences, which had been building since World War II, along with the recent growth of astronomy itself at the UW. This expansion included the new Pine Bluff Observatory, the enhanced facilities of Sterling Hall, a growing faculty, and the development of research and projects in early space astronomy. So when Pat arrived in Madison about 1962, her cohort included Natalie Satunas, who would be the first to receive her Ph.D., in 1964, and Susan Simkin, who would tie with Pat for second place when they both received their doctorates in 1967. Pat worked first with Prof. Don Osterbrock and then Prof. John Mathis on a dissertation project that developed computational models of white dwarf stars. She wrote the codes herself and worked with relatively little supervision, but also participated fully in the intellectual life of the department. Contemporaries recollect that Pat worked easily with other members of the department and, like the other women, was welcomed as a scientific colleague from the start. Even before finishing her Ph.D. at UW, Pat had obtained a faculty position at Dearborn Observatory of Northwestern University, where she would work for a few years. While extending her dissertation research and publishing several papers on problems associated with white dwarf stars, her interests began to shift toward studies of galaxy clusters. Along with W. W. Morgan of Yerkes Observatory, Pat developed and published an influential classification scheme for galaxy clusters. The Bautz-Morgan classification scheme, published in The Astrophysical Journal in 1970, was based on the brightness contrast between the most luminous galaxy and other galaxies in the cluster. Clusters with a Central Dominant, or cD galaxy, formed their own class. The prevailing view today is that cD galaxies form by accretion of stellar “debris” stripped from other galaxies. This understanding was inspired by Bautz and Morgan’s prescient paper. A turning point for Pat apparently came in 1972 when she spent a sabbatical year working for the National Science Foundation. She returned to Northwestern after that year, but by 1974 had decided to cast her lot with NSF, where she remained for the rest of her career.

  • At NSF, Pat started out in the Physics Division but rose to Director of the Division of Astronomical Science by the early 1980s. In that position she had overall responsibility for the Division’s funding, supervised individual program managers, implemented NSF policy within her Division, and was responsible for communications directed outward to the wider astronomical community. Pat went on to hold other NSF posts as well, including in Education and Human Resources, where she worked to encourage participation and career choices by young women in science and engineering. She also worked in the International Division, which must have suited her well since she was an enthusiastic traveler her entire life. That 1963 UW press release featuring Pat and her fellow graduate students, predicted correctly that the women then entering upon astronomical careers, would, like men, find positions in academia, government observatories and laboratories, and in private industry. Pat explored yet a fourth path, starting in academia but later taking on the responsibility of encouraging and managing the investment in the public good that we as a society make in scientific research on a national scale. Pat also clearly saw the importance of the investment that many generations have made to build Wisconsin’s public university, which helped her build her career in science. Her family recollects that Pat loved the University of Wisconsin, and Madison, for the rest of her life. Her generosity confirms that affection, but it expresses, and thus deserves, much more than mere gratitude. Pat’s bequest is a gesture whose message of faith in our history and commitment to our future deserves to be widely known and fully understood.

    Photo by Bob Rood, courtesy Dept. of Astronomy, Univ. of Virginia