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Degenerate Matter: James Liebert

James W. Liebert was a senior at the time I left for Los Alamos. He writes: "I remember talking to you about accepting graduate school at Berkeley, where I was interested in learning to calculate stellar models with Louis Henyey (he unfortunately died a short time after I arrived in California). I had to go to the navy for a few years during the Vietnam War, though I got to stay in Washington. I got my Ph.D. from the University of California in 1976; my thesis was Spectrophotometric Studies of White Dwarf Stars (advisor Hyron Spinrad).

"I then moved to Arizona and have been here ever since. Now (1998), here in the Department of Astronomy (Steward Observatory) the graduate students in my class are computing stellar models on a SPARC Ultra computer which rip through the main sequence and on to the giant branch and core helium ignition...and this evolution simulation requires only about ten minutes of calculating time! But it was at Lindley Hall, not so much in course work, but just from talking and working with Wayne Fullerton, Jack Hills, Brook Sandford, Larry Cloutman and most especially with Ed Sion, in addition to you and Wyman Storer, that I first learned about the U-V plane, polytropes, Chandra's book on stellar structure, radiative transfer, Ambartsumian's book Theoretical Astrophysics, and 'fitting methods' for models of stars.

"About 1980 I was invited to the University of Chicago to give a colloquium titled The Growing Menagerie of Magnetic Degenerate Stars. I was hoping that Chandra would come, but was told that he had been ill; well, luckily he did come! At the end of the talk Chandra stood up and all attention was turned on him. He said that he didn't usually attend colloquia anymore, but that the title of the talk attracted him. He was glad that I used the term 'degenerate stars' instead of 'white dwarfs.' It seemed that several decades previously a group of astronomers were discussing what name should be used for these beasts at the end of stellar life. Henry Norris Russell was the leader of those who favored 'white dwarfs' and said, 'Dr. Chandrasekhar, fifty years from now these stars will still be there, but we're not so sure about your theory of degenerate matter.' Chandra noted that almost this much time had passed, and he thought the 'degenerate matter' ideas were still doing OK! Unfortunately, as I recall, Chandra had to leave immediately afterwards and I didn't really get the chance to chat with him, but this was a real thrill for me."

Besides teaching, doing research, writing technical reports, etc., there are various administrative duties that a professor has to perform; for example, in Liebert's case he served on the AAS Council and as Chair of the Publications Board. In this latter context he worked closely with Jim Hesser (with whom he did not overlap at K.U.) and they co-chaired committees regarding the management of the Ap.J. and its evolution to electronic journals, the selection of the chief and scientific editors, and also the directorship of the Cerro Tololo Observatory. Liebert also writes, "There were occasions where the good judgment of Jim Hesser was essential to working our way through some seemingly impossible obstacles. At one point someone made the comment that 'the AAS is at the mercy of the K.U. Mafia!' Presently (1998) Ed Sion is one of the scientific editors, so that this Mafia is still active!"