Kinsey Anderson, Francesco Paresce, Stu Bowyer
Kinsey Anderson, Francesco Paresce, Stu Bowyer

Stuart Bowyer passed away at his home in Orinda, California, on September 23, 2020, from complications associated with Covid-19.  He is survived by his wife, Jane, his sons, William and Robert, his daughter, Elizabeth, and five grandchildren.

Stuart was born on August 2, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio.  He attended grade school at a one-room facility a mile from his father’s farm in Orland Park, Illinois.  He graduated from Orland Park High School as the valedictorian of his class.  He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University of Ohio and a Ph.D. from Catholic University of America.  He worked as a Research Physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., a Research Professor at Catholic University, and then, as a Professor in the Astronomy Department at the University of California, Berkeley, until his retirement in 1994.  He then continued his research as the Director of the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics at Berkeley.

He is most noted for training a group of about 30 graduate students, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in the field, and for inventing and developing the field of extreme ultraviolet astronomy.  He invented and/or developed many of the instruments that are the mainstays of this field today.  In the early 1980s, he won a NASA competition for an Explorer Class mission to build the instrumentation for a satellite devoted to the study of Extreme Ultraviolet radiation from celestial sources.  The instrumentation was built in-house at the Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, which, at the peak of this effort, employed more than 150 engineers and scientists on this effort.  Bowyer was one of the first, if not the first, scientists to become  Principle Investigator of an entire NASA mission.

In 1989, Bowyer founded the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics in Berkeley.  This was the first Center outside of NASA to become responsible for operational control of the mission and the instrumentation, reduction and archiving of the data obtained from the satellite, analyzing the scientific results, and managing a Guest Investigator Program.

While at Berkeley, Bowyer also investigated the nature of the local interstellar medium and he developed one of the first and still ongoing Searches for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Stuart Bowyer received many awards and honors, including the NASA Technical Achievement Award, the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award, the Royal Order of Aerobee Rocketeers, the Humboldt Foundation Senior Scientist, the Honorary Doctor of Science from Miami University of Ohio, the Alumni Achievement Award in Science from the Catholic University, an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy from the Catholic University, the NASA ATLAS 1 Award, the NASA-DARA Orpheus-SPAS Award, the NASA Distinguished Public Service Award, the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science Award,  the ASTRO-SPAS Mission 11 Award,  the Computerworld/Smithsonian Science Award, and the COSPAR Massey Award.

Over his career, Stuart Bowyer authored and/or coauthored over 500 scientific papers in the referred literature, and his work is referenced in more than 10,000 publications.

The above describes Stuart Bowyer’s scientific achievements but it does not describe the man that he was.  The following are some paragraphs that better describe Bowyer as a living, breathing, exciting, funny guy that he was.

From Stuart’s former postdoc, Jean Brodie, Director, Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, Distinguished Professor, Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia; Distinguished Professor Emerita, UC Santa Cruz:  Stuart Bowyer was a larger than life character. He did nothing by halves. People who knew him, it seemed, either loved him or hated him but no one I ever met was neutral about Stu. When I first knew him, he was in his prime, both physically and professionally. His zest for life and for fun seemed to know no bounds and one of the many things I loved about Stu was that he always made me laugh.   He also taught me how to be a professional astronomer and rescued me from a situation that could easily have ended my career before it started.  I came to UC Berkeley straight from Cambridge where I had done the British thing and gained a PhD in only three years. Thus, I had little in the way of preparation for being a postdoc, let alone a postdoc without an adviser (I had an independent fellowship that I elected to take at Berkeley).  Stu found me floundering and suggested I join his group. I never looked back.

He was blunt, he was critical and he was supportive once you had convinced him you had a good idea. He was not easily convinced.  I’d come to him with an idea, he’d tell me to go away and write up a short proposal, I’d come back with a few typewritten pages, he’d hand them back covered in red ink, I’d go away and try again. Gradually, the red ink receded and I started to understand what it would take to succeed. I never made the mistake many have made of underestimating Stu. He had an uncanny instinct about astronomy and about people; which ideas would fly and which wouldn’t, who would succeed and who would not.  He knew a good thing when he saw one and he got behind it one hundred percent.

He was physically tall and powerfully built and his booming voice matched his stature and his enthusiasm. One of my favorite memories of Stu was coming into the office at the Space Sciences Lab one morning to a very loud noise that I could not quite identify – an ear-splitting crack.  Looking around bewildered, I heard a roar and Stu rounded the corner dressed in leather, complete with a facemask, cracking a whip!  His unorthodox ways of encouraging extra effort from the members of his very large group were often hilarious and always fun. He bought beer and pizza for us all at a local place every Friday after work. He organized many memorable parties and his home, where he and his gracious wife, Jane, were tireless and generous hosts.  Stu believed in working hard and playing hard and he expected both from his mentees. Nonetheless, beneath the bombastic veneer was a serious scientist with a dedication to his students and postdocs, the equal of which I have never encountered, before or since.   He was always the perfect gentleman with me but at the same time I knew he cared about me, as he cared for all those in his group. His support and guidance were what launched me into a successful career.

In his later years, he did not change much. In his 80’s he still loved parties and to see people enjoying themselves. He would dance and stay up late, putting folks half his age to shame with his energy and enthusiasm.  The world is a less colorful and less interesting place without him. He will be sorely missed.

From Stu’s longtime friend and colleague, Forrest Mozer, Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley:  When I think of Stu Bowyer, I end up with a contradiction.  He was, at once, a good scientist and a great mentor while at the same time he was, in his own words, enemies with very many people.  In fact, he viewed the world as comprised of his friends and his enemies.  Not much in between.  For me he was a friend and I liked Stu very much.  But there are those who disagree, including the people whose tires he flattened when they parked in his space, or whose windshield wipers he took for the same infraction, or the people at NASA who temporarily removed him from his Principle Investigator role on the EUVE satellite because he caused them so much grief.  But Stu got his revenge by deliberately overspending his NASA grant by the largest amount that I had heard of up to that time.

Stu’s major scientific idea was that, contrary to the general opinion, one could learn about the universe by observing its extreme ultraviolet radiation.  The scientific community was skeptical because the interstellar medium was opaque at such wavelengths.  But Stu persisted, was awarded the EUVE satellite program, and he showed there were enough gaps in the medium that one could see this radiation to great distances in some directions.  During this time, he had a group of graduate students who have since grown into leaders in many sub-fields of astrophysics.  This may be his greatest scientific achievement – attracting very good graduate students and postdocs and helping them develop into world leaders.  Stuart realized this because he once told me that he was not so smart but he was smart enough to have a team of great scientists.

One last thought.  I have known some good and great people including nine Nobel Laureates as well as the richest man in the world.  But, when I think of the most unforgettable people I have ever met, I think of two people, and Stuart Bowyer is one of them.

From Stu’s former student, James Overduin, Professor, Towson University:  I first met Stu in 1990 when I traveled to Berkeley from Canada for a year as a visiting research assistant with my MSc advisor, Paul Wesson. Our goal was to study the theoretical implications of new observational data on background radiation. CEA, the Center for Extreme Ultraviolet Astrophysics, had just gotten up and running on Kittredge Street and the launch of EUVE was two years away. We were very warmly received. I will never forget Stu’s combination of boyish energy and dominating personality as he bounded into the room and immediately began sketching for us on the back of a napkin — not a physics equation or blueprint for a new detector, but a calculation of the odds of winning a Nobel Prize by detecting a dark-matter candidate that was then much in the news (a decaying tau neutrino proposed by Dennis Sciama and others).

The Nobel Prize did not materialize but Stu’s enthusiasm infected us both and never left me. I have many good memories of that year at CEA, where I first encountered email on a monochrome VT100 terminal and learned how to program in FORTRAN and write a thesis with LaTeX. Stu was of course very busy with EUVE, but as I learned later, he was also keeping an eye on me. As a mentor, he combined important traits. He was incredibly encouraging. Near the end of my stay, he astonished me by proposing that I apply to Berkeley to return and do a PhD under his supervision. For various reasons I did not feel ready to rise to this challenge, but he never held my choice against me. In fact, he invited me to speak at an IAU General Assembly meeting of the Commission on the Light of the Night Sky that he chaired in Kyoto in 1997, and at the EUVE End-Of-Mission Meeting in 2001. These invitations gave me confidence as a young scientist.

Just as important as his encouragement was a sense of scientific discipline that he imparted to his students. I learned about this, to my immense benefit, when applying for postdoctoral research positions. Stu’s letter of recommendation was too generous in almost every way, but also noted that he had not always been able to find me in the office during my year at CEA, so that he was not certain whether I “had, or would develop, the kind of drive shown by the very best students at Berkeley.” That one line radically changed the way I conduct research. As a shy MSc student, I had tended to work too much on my own at home, so I missed out on the kinds of serendipitous meetings by the water cooler that are so important to successful research. Stu’s remark changed all that. Looking back over my career now, I see the many times that serendipity played a role and I realize that they might not have happened without that course correction, courtesy of Stu. (For the record, he noticed the change in me and changed his letter so that it was even better.) Now that I am professor myself, I find myself emulating Stu in the way I write letters for my own students. I remember Stu with heartfelt thanks.

10 Responses

  1. HZ43: The Start!

    The Apollo-Soyuz EUV Telescope, proposed and designed by Stu Bowyer and his group at SSL, was a pioneering effort to validate EUV astronomy as a viable field of study. Despite skepticism from many in the scientific community that any emission in the “unobservable ultraviolet” would be overwhelmed by absorption in the interstellar medium, Stu seized the opportunity to successfully get the EUVT included in the post-linkup science program on the Apollo. It’s still astonishing to realize that the instrument was designed at SSL, built (by Ball Bros.), calibrated (also at SSL), and flown in the time frame of several years.

    The hot white dwarf HZ43, already known to be a significant soft X-ray emitter, was one of the most promising among dozens of observing targets. As we now know , it became the first demonstrated source of extrasolar EUV radiation (see link below). Not very well known is that fact that the Apollo-Soyuz EUVT detection of HZ43 was nearly missed because of an operational mishap.

    To view astronomical sources with the EUVT on Apollo, the entire spacecraft attitude had to be re-oriented, since the telescope was firmly bolted to a bay in the Apollo Service Module. The EUVT operations and detector count rates were monitored in real-time by members of the SSL team in the science ops room at mission control in Houston. During the first attempted HZ43 observation, something went wrong, and the team on duty at the time (M. Lampton, B. Margon) noticed this. Strongly supported by Stu, they obtained a taped replay of the telemetry, and confirmed the problem. With evidence in hand, Stu and the team successfully requested the re-observation of HZ43, resulting in the beginning of cosmic EUV astronomy.

    Bob Stern, Bruce Margon, Mike Lampton

  2. I can call Stu a friend, although I was not his student nor worked at SSL. I got to know Stu when our project to design, build, launch and operate a UV imaging telescope array (TAUVEX) was being considered by the Israel Space Agency. Having read about Stu’s work I came to visit him at SSL and understand what is important and what is not when building an UV instrument. Stu gave me one of the EUVE mugs, drove me in his red two-seater, and invited me for lunch at his home, where I met the lovely Jane. I got served a cold margarita from the jug they had in the fridge, and also got to walk on their deck until I almost fell in their deck-level hot tub. Stu got to visit me in Israel when he came as external expert to the TAUVEX CDR. We were in loose contact during all these years, when we worked on matching the FAUST UV sources to optical objects and understanding their nature. I will miss Stu’s yearly updates on the status of their garden, with the pictures and the New Year greetings, and his side remarks on his enemies. May his memory be blessed.

  3. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Stu because after we at MIT came in a close second (but definitely second) to NRL on the discovery of x-ray pulsinI have always had a soft spot in my heart for Stu because after we at MIT came in a close second (but definitely second) to NRL on the discovery of x-ray pulsing from the Crab pulsar, Stu – no longer at NRL – sent me a congratulatory note, something like ”Congratulations Hale; I only believed it when I saw your result.” It was a real needed lift when I was really feeling down. Later on there was some competitive feeling between us as both XTE and EUVE struggled to get into space. But we never communicated directly at all before, during, or after those times. But I will always remember his encouraging words, even though, actually, the NRL pulsar results were quite solid on their own.

  4. I took beginning Astronomy from Stu Bowyer Fall Quarter 1976. Since it was the introductory class, it was in one of the big rooms, a few hundred students. And Stu was always dead last in arriving there. And about halfway through the quarter, a particularly snarky friend of mine decided to tease him about always being last, so, as Stu finally showed up that day, my friend stood up and gave him a big round of applause. And then – several others in the class started applauding too. More and more joined in each succeeding class, and so, for about the last five weeks of the quarter, three times a week, he got a full round of applause from the entire class, just for showing up. I have not seen anything like this before or since. He was a marvelous teacher and a marvelous man. Rest in peace, Stu Bowyer.

  5. My very first teaching experience was as a Teaching Assistant for Stu Bowyer, and I learned a lot from him and from the more senior TA’s who helped us beginners. For me, this was the beginning of a life devoted to teaching astronomy and helping others to teach astronomy, and it all began observing Stu handle his class with his trademark good humor.

  6. My apologies for this late comment, as I have only just discovered this webpage through the IAU.

    I am writing to record my sincere sadness at the passing of Stu Bowyer. His pioneering work along with the SSL team created a subject, EUV astronomy, that made my career. So, I owe him a great deal. As I was a leading member of the ROSAT WFC camera tea, racing with EUVE to get into space to deliver the first all sky survey, we were rivals to a great degree. However, Stu always treated me with friendship and good humour, even when external circumstances led to the WFC launch about 6 months ahead of EUVE. I was always made very welcome in Berkeley and the CEA and I have fond memories of months spent there working on EUVE spectroscopic data. Recollecting Stu’s enormous scientific contribution, I have continued to carry the torch for EUV astronomy, although I am still looking for that next satellite mission.

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