John Kormendy Fills First Vaughan Chair in Astronomy

4 February 2000

AUSTIN, Texas: John Kormendy has been selected to inaugurate the Curtis T. Vaughan, Jr. Centennial Chair in Astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin. Kormendy began his appointment in the spring 2000 semester and will teach and conduct research, primarily on the Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET) at McDonald Observatory.

Kormendy brings over 23 years of research and teaching experience, most recently holding a professorship at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii. He is best known for his advanced work on the structure of galaxies and for his pioneering work on direct evidence that normal and active galaxies harbor black holes. "John Kormendy is an excellent scientist who has put his name on every topic on which he has worked," says Christopher Sneden, Chairman of the Department of Astronomy. 

As holder of the Vaughan Chair, Kormendy will lead new research efforts, particularly in the areas of dark matter, the evolution of the various types of galaxies, and the accretion flares of stars that are being swallowed by black holes. "Research on dark matter is ideally suited for the HET," says Kormendy, "since we need to get spectra of exceedingly faint structures at large radii in galaxies. With the HET, Texas can be one of the groups that ‘control the state of the art’ in this exciting area." Kormendy’s other research objectives will continue to include the search for supermassive black holes in galactic nuclei, surveying extreme dwarf galaxies in the Virgo Cluster, and fostering closer scientific ties with HET partner Ludwig—Maximilians—Universität, Munich. 

Born in 1948 in Graz, Austria, Kormendy holds a 1976 doctorate in astronomy from the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, and received his bachelor of science in honors mathematics, physics and chemistry (astronomy division) in 1970 from the University of Toronto. Author of over 100 journal articles and conference and review papers, Kormendy is the recipient of the 1970 Gold Medal, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada; a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, 1970—1971; the 1988 Muhlmann Prize, Astronomical Society of the Pacific; and a 1995 Humboldt Research Award, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Germany. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Royal Astronomical Society, and the International Astronomical Union.

Named for long-time UT astronomy department benefactor Curtis T. Vaughan, Jr., the Vaughan Chair was established in 1979 and provides over $2 million for the appointment of preeminent astronomy faculty and additional instrumentation for the HET to support the Vaughan Chair’s research goals. "My support for the University’s McDonald Observatory grew out of my own interest in astronomy in the early 1950s – particularly in cosmology – and my friendship, in the 1970s, with Harlan Smith, then Chairman of the department and Director of McDonald Observatory," says Vaughan, a member of the McDonald Observatory and Astronomy Board of Visitors.