Bart Jan Bok   [1906-1983]

Astronomer

Bart Bok 1983a.jpg

 

Bart Jan Bok was a graduate of the University of Leiden's Astronomy Department, which was probably the most active producer of leading astronomers during the early part of the twentieth century. It produced such leading Dutch American astronomers as Gerard Kuiper, Dirk Brouwer, Bart Jan Bok and Willem Luyten. The mentors for these astronomers at the University of Leiden and the University of Groningen were such well-known astronomers as Jan Oort, Ejnar Hertzsprung, Antonie Pannekoek, Willem de Sitter, and Jan Woltjer.

Bart Bok earned his doctorate in astronomy under Peter van Rhijn in 1928. The following year, in 1929, he moved to the United States and took a position at Harvard University, where he remained until 1957. During his first year at Harvard, he met his future wife, Priscilla Fairfield, also an astronomer, and for the remainder of their lives they collaborated closely on research in the field of astronomy.

During his stay at Harvard, in the 1940's, Bok helped to set up the National Observatory of Mexico at Tonantzintla. Ten years later, in the early 1950's, Bok was involved with setting up Harvard's southern station observatory in South Africa.

During the period from 1957 to 1966, Bok lived in Australia and was director of the Mount Stromlo Observatory. While in Australia, he was involved with the establishment of the Siding Spring Observatory there. It is not clear what caused him to move to Australia, but 1957 was the time of the McCarthy hearings and there are indications that he had some problems with the direction the U. S. seemed to be heading into at that time. However, in 1966, he returned to the U. S. and took a position at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. At the University of Arizona, Bok became the director of the Steward Observatory. Bok remained at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, until his retirement in 1970.

Bart and Priscilla Fairfield Bok studied the structure and evolution of star clusters in the galaxy. The couple mapped the spiral arms of the Milky Way, especially the Carina region and the Magellanic Clouds. Bok also investigated interstellar gas and dust, which led to studies of star formation. He also became known for his work on small dark nebulae, now called "Bok Globules".

Bok was honored for his many accomplishments in the field of astronomy in a variety of ways. Among other recognitions, he was awarded the Bruce Medal, a very important award in the field of astronomy. The Bruce Medal is awarded annually by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, a Society which aims to advance the science of astronomy. The Society was founded in 1889, and has been awarding the Bruce Medal since 1898. Other honors bestowed on Bok include a crater on the moon named after Bok [jointly with his wife], an asteroid, named the "Asteroid 1983 Bok" [jointly with his wife], the already mentioned Bok Globules, and a postdoctoral fellowship, named the Bart J. Bok Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship is given by the Astronomy Department of the University of Arizona and the Steward Observatory.

Bok also gained some notoriety in 1975, when he coauthored the statement, "Objections to Astrology", which was essentially a statement against the belief in astrology. The statement was endorsed by 186 professional astronomers, astrophysicists and other scientists, including 19 winners of the Nobel Prize. The statement was published in the "Humanist", in 1975. An outgrowth of the statement was the establishment of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Bok was a founding fellow of the Committee.

Bart Bok was born in Hoorn, a historic community in the province of North Holland, the Netherlands, on April 28, 1906. He became an American citizen in 1938. He passed away in his home in Tucson, Arizona on August 5, 1983. His death was caused by a heart attack.

 

REFERENCES

Bart Bok, Wikipedia

Bart Jan Bok, www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu/BruceMedalists/Bok/Bok.html

 

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