I use him as an example for my non-science majors.

John Lacy did not consider himself an amateur astronomer. He's always liked looking at the stars, and his father pointed out constellations to him when he was a boy, but it wasn't until a friend in high school convinced him to join the astronomy club that he became more interested in astronomy. That friend is now a professor of music composition.

When John teaches undergraduate courses, he occasionally runs into students with mental blocks about science. They claim they can't understand astronomy because they are not science majors. John uses his friend the music professor as an example to show those students that they can understand science.

"A matchmaker for zoo animals."

John was born in Gary, Indiana, but moved to Connecticut when he was in the ninth grade. He has two brothers and two sisters. One brother, Bob, is a biologist who works at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. John describes his brother's work as, "a matchmaker for zoo animals." Bob studies the problems of breeding animals while in captivity, and often consults with biologists at other zoos.

"Ms. Kitty is still likely to toss her cookies."

Felines reign supreme in the Lacy household. John has three cats named Ms. Kitty, Tyler, and Eppie. Tyler was a stray that he found near Tyler, Texas. That location was the inspiration for the cat's name. Eppie is a recent newcomer, and the other cats are still adjusting. Tyler stays outside a lot, and according to John, "Ms. Kitty is still likely to toss her cookies when she sees her." Hopefully peace and harmony will soon prevail.

"It nearly knocked me over!"

John's favorite teacher was his tenth grade chemistry teacher, even though he can't remember the teacher's name. John has some very vivid memories of that class. During one laboratory experiment, he had to smell the contents of a test tube. Instead of gently wafting the odors to his nose, he inhaled the odor directly and, "it nearly knocked me over!" As in other high school chemistry classes, accidents were bound to happen. John recounts the time he accidentally dropped a still glowing match into a wastebasket and, "nearly burned down the school." The teacher didn't get too upset though, which is why John liked him!

"I'm pretty incoherent when I'm on that mountain."

As a graduate student, to complete the research needed for his dissertation, he built an instrument and used it to discover a black hole in the center of our galaxy. That success has led to a career designing, building, and using other instruments, including TEXES, the Texas Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrometer.

Many people may not realize how much engineering plays a role in astronomy. After all, someone has to design and build the instruments and telescopes that astronomers use. John and his team have used TEXES at McDonald Observatory and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea in Hawaii at 14,000 feet above sea level. It often takes John a couple of days to adjust to that higher altitude. In fact, John says that, "I'm pretty incoherent when I'm on that mountain."

John is an avid bicycler and has ridden a 75-mile loop in the Davis Mountains near McDonald Observatory. Someday he would like to bring his bike along and ride it from sea level to the summit of Mauna Kea. It is only a 40 mile ride, but it is all uphill!

John Lacy
Professor of Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin
Ph.D.; Physics; University of California-Berkeley
S.B.; Physics; Massachusetts Institute of Technology