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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


UA astronomy pioneer dies at 88

Aden Meinel, who was instrumental in the development of the UA’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and the namesake of the Meinel Optical Sciences building, died Monday at age 88.

His research spanned from optical design to solar energy to atmospheric physics and astronomy. After earning his doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, in the late 1940s, Meinel began scouting locations for a national observatory, noting Tucson’s Kitt Peak as one of the best sites in the nation and eventually becoming the founding director there. He became the director of Steward Observatory in 1961, and later the Optical Sciences Center in 1966.

“If you look at the strongest departments and activities (at the UA) — astronomy and optical sciences — without his coming here, it’s doubtful that astronomy would be anything like what it has become and certainly optical sciences wouldn’t exist and those are two really renowned departments,” said Roger Angel, UA Regents’ professor.

The founder and director of the UA Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, Angel said he would not be where he is in his career today without Meinel.

“Aden really did huge things for the university in astronomy and optical sciences,” he said. “My career would have been completely different. A lot of the things that brought me here, he was in large measure responsible for. I probably wouldn’t have been here and if I had come, I’d probably have ended up doing very different things.”

Peter Strittmatter, head of the UA astronomy department, agreed, saying Meinel “helped obtain the money and was the person who conceived of space astronomy here and revolutionized astronomical telescopes” on campus, of which the UA is still doing work on.

“When you think about the Tucson area, it’s often called Optics Valley – and that’s owed to Aden Meinel’s legacy,” Strittmatter said.

Plans for a memorial have yet to be announced.

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