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2005 ASP Annual Award Recipients

Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal
Robert P. Kraft
University of California Observatories/Lick Observatory, USA

Robert Kraft has been awarded this year the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Medal for a lifetime of contributions in the field of astronomy. Indeed, few astronomers can match Kraft’s record of service to the community: he served as President of the American Astronomical Society (1974 to 1976); he was the director of Lick Observatory from 1981 to 1991, during the pivotal time when the 10-meter Keck telescope was being designed, purchased, and built; and from 1997 to 2000, he served as President of the International Astronomical Union.

As a researcher, Kraft made contributions so fundamental that they have filtered down into introductory astronomy textbooks. For example, he was the first to show that novae, stars that undergo a sudden increase in brightness, are actually close binary star systems in which the more evolved star (usually a white dwarf) siphons hydrogen and helium from its expanding companion. The transferred material undergoes rapid accretion onto the dense white dwarf that leads to an explosion or novae. His work on the spatial distribution of Cepheid variables was critical in calibrating their absolute magnitudes for use as distance indicators. His research on stellar rotation showed that stars like the Sun spin slower and slower as they age because winds of charged particles carry away the stars’ angular momentum. And Kraft’s work on the chemical
composition of stars provided evidence for deep mixing of elements in red giants.

Kraft’s service and research have earned him several awards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Associate of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 1995, the American Astronomical Society honored his work by naming him the Henry Norris Russell Lecturer for his lifetime of achievement in astronomy.

Kraft earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in mathematics from the University of Washington and his Ph.D. degree in astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1967 as an astronomer at Lick Observatory and professor of astronomy and astrophysics, after holding assistant professor positions at Indiana University and the University of Chicago. Robert Kraft received his doctorate in 1955 and has been contributing to the field of astronomy ever since.