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Left: Dr. Elizabeth "Pat" Roemer (1929-2016) , Right: Dr. Marcia Rieke, Inaugural Chair Holder

The Dr. Elizabeth Roemer Endowed Chair in Steward Observatory

Author: Buell T. Jannuzi

Through the generosity of Richard F. Caris, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Larry and Susan Allen, & Trip and Ann Wolbach, we have been able to establish the first endowed chair in the history of Steward Observatory and the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona.

The endowed chair is named in honor of Dr. Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer (1929-2016), a highly valued member of the Department of Astronomy, LPL, and Steward Observatory during the 1960s through 1990s. We honor Dr. Roemer because of her notable contributions, not only to the University of Arizona, but to the fields of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences. By identifying her as an exemplar of excellence and a role model for all of us, we also want to encourage greater diversity and equity in science, so necessary to making progress on the grand scientific challenges we will address in the decades to come.

The inaugural holder of the chair is Regents’ Professor of Astronomy Marcia Rieke, a member of the National Academy of Sciences with a distinguished record of scientific and scholarly achievements in astrophysics, instrumentation, education, outreach, and service. 

Marcia Rieke, like the distinguished professor in whose honor the chair is named, has a record of fostering and sustaining the inclusive and welcoming environment required to enable everyone to succeed in our field, independent of their race, gender, or background.  

Our selection of Marcia Rieke as the first holder of the chair, coupled with the legacy of Elizabeth Roemer, establishes the high standards expected of future holders of the Dr. Elizabeth Roemer Endowed Chair in Steward Observatory.  

Commitment to Diversity and Inclusiveness
The Dr. Elizabeth Roemer Endowed Chair in Steward Observatory is one of many signs of our commitment to improve the institutional climate by raising the visibility and recognizing the contributions of women in astronomy and the physical sciences.  The Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory have a long-standing commitment to providing a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment for everyone. We know that having a welcoming and supportive environment helps us attract and retain a diverse and talented community of faculty, staff, and students. We know that one of the sources of strength for our department and one of the reasons for our successes is our ability to attract and retain the best people from all communities. We also know we must always work to improve.


Additional Information about Dr. Elizabeth “Pat” Roemer

Professor Roemer was an expert in astrometry and her research focused on the study of comets and asteroids. She recovered, through her calculations and observations, 79 periodic comets.  She specialized in astrometry, making precise measurements of the positions, motions, and magnitudes of celestial bodies.  She discovered the asteroids “1930 Lucifer” (1964) and “1983 Bok” (1975), and was a co-discoverer of Thermisto, one of Jupiter’s moons. 

Pat was born in Oakland, California on September 4, 1929. She was valedictorian of her 1946 high school class and a winner of that year’s national Westinghouse Science Talent Search. She received a B.A. in Astronomy as a Bertha Dolbeer Scholar in 1950 from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also earned a Ph.D. in 1955. She began to develop her love for teaching while supporting herself through graduate school by teaching classes at local public schools. After completing her degree, she worked as an assistant astronomer at the University of California while also conducting research at the University of Chicago’s Yerkes Observatory, moving to the U.S. Naval Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ in 1957. In 1966, she joined the UArizona as an associate professor in the Department of Astronomy and a researcher in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL). She was promoted to full professor in 1969.  In 1972 she lead the committee that recommended the establishment of the Department of Planetary Sciences.  After retiring, Professor Emerita, in 1997, she continued to be an active member of the astronomy community.  

As a female professor in a male-dominated community, Pat Roemer was an early pioneer for women scientists in astronomy.  She held leadership roles in many astronomical commissions and organizations and earned numerous awards for her groundbreaking work. She served as president of the International Astronomical Union Commission 6 (Astronomical Telegrams) and vice president of Commission 20 (Positions and Motions of Minor Planets, Comets, and Satellites). She served as chair of the American Astronomical Society Division on Dynamical Astronomy.  Among her many awards were the B. A. Gould Prize of the National Academy of Sciences, the NASA Special Award, and the Donohoe Lectureship of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. In 1961, Asteroid “1657 Roemera” was named in her honor. 

Additional Information about Dr. Marcia Rieke, First Holder of the Dr. Elizabeth Roemer Endowed Chair in Steward Observatory:  

Marcia Rieke’s research interests include infrared observations of the center of the Milky Way and of other galactic nuclei and observation of the infrared sky at as faint a level as possible to study distant galaxies. These research interests have driven her to characterize and develop large-format, low-noise infrared detector arrays. She received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She came to the UA in 1976 as a postdoctoral fellow and joined the faculty as an Assistant Astronomer in Steward Observatory. She has served as the Deputy Principal Investigator on NICMOS, (the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer for the Hubble Space Telescope), the Outreach Coordinator for the Spitzer Space Telescope, and now is the Principal Investigator for the near-infrared camera (NIRCam) for the James Webb Space Telescope.  She also has been active in using Arizona’s ground-based telescopes. She served as the Vice Chair for Program Prioritization for Astro2010 and was the Chair of the Astro2020 Panel that reviewed planned OIR space facilities and missions.  She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Sciences. She has been a positive force for the creation of a strong Department/Observatory with a welcoming and safe environment for all, through her recent tenure as the Associate Head of the Department and as past chair of the Department’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee.

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Information in this web page article was contributed by various members of our faculty who knew Elizabeth Roemer and by articles or obituaries, including one by Antoinette Beiser in the Lowell Observer, the Quarterly Newsletter of the Lowell Observatory:

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