Live From...the Stratosphere
Allan Meyer Biography

Name: Allan Meyer

Position: Tracker Operator

My name is Allan Meyer; I am an astronomer on the staff of the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, and the SOFIA Project Office. I grew up in San Jose, California, and my education included physics, math and astronomy studies at the University of California. My first job after leaving U.C. was at NASA Ames, and then I joined the KAO crew a few years after it started flying. At that time, the staff included engineers, technicians, aircraft mechanics, computer programmers and so on, but there was not anyone on the staff with an astronomy background. My challenge was to develop techniques to point the KAO telescope quickly and accurately at the objects to be observed. Throughout the KAO program, there have been many different kinds of experiments used on the KAO, and this has given us many interesting problems to solve. My primary concern was making good use of the information available about the sky to be sure that we could always point the telescope. I have also been involved in the preparations of experiments and the telescope for flight, since this also affects the pointing.

My main contributions to the Live from the Stratosphere project so far have been working out the flight plans, and participating in the development of the Teacher's Guide, the poster and the student activities. I started thinking about which objects might be good choices to observe, and calculating trial flight plans last March. Both the University of Chicago astronomers and myself hoped that we might be able to have the Orion nebula in the flight. But in October that object can only be observed around 4 AM, and we were eventually convinced to give that up. I continued to refine the choices of objects and the flight plans for observing them, until we settled on what is now planned. Several times I would get a copy of an email message from someone on the East Coast, or in Chicago or Texas or Hawaii, and some of their comments were just what I was trying to figure out how to say. I used several sources I found this year on the World Wide Web to get the images of the objects we hope to observe. These images are printed on the back of the Live from the Stratosphere poster, and some are also in the Teacher's Guide.

I've been interested in astronomy for as long as I can remember, at least since I was about 9 years old (I'm 45 now). I was also interested in biology and medicine, especially in high school when I started to read about the advances in areas such as molecular biology (DNA etc.). I took all of the science and math courses offered in high school, and attended a summer school in college-level chemistry and physics. I majored in physics at UC, and all of my courses were math and physics, except those needed fulfill other requirements. I also took some elective courses in astronomy, but my study of the real "meat" of modern astronomy and astrophysics was in graduate school. Modern astronomy is a special application of physics and mathematics, very much like modern medicine is an application of biology and chemistry. Participation in astronomy research requires knowledge of physics and math, which is used to study astronomy or at least those topics that may be of interest. Many of the major contributors to the advance of astronomy have been those who apply their knowledge of physics and math to try to understand or explain something that has been observed in the sky, or even to describe something that we could never see. Some of the most interesting advances in astronomy in recent years have been accomplished by putting some physics and math into a computer, which calculates a simulation of something happening in space. The real thing may take millions of years to happen, but computers provide the results of the simulation in minutes or seconds. Computers are used in many ways in astronomy and all of the sciences, so working with them is a skill that is also valuable to learn.

I did have a telescope when I was young, and I spent quite a bit of my spare time using it to observe, photograph and measure objects in the sky. I was fortunate to have an excellent math teacher in high school. I might also mention here that the physicist Richard Feynman made quite an impression on me, even though I never met him. I especially enjoyed reading about his work in the Manhattan Project, and his Lectures on Physics are an excellent survey of how the universe works.

I have 3 daughters, Sara, Emily and Michelle. Sara is in 3rd grade, Emily is in 1st grade. My wife Nancy is an art teacher, which probably explains why all my daughters like to draw and paint on paper or on our home computer. We like to go bicycling (the younger 2 girls ride in attached seats). We also like to go camping a few times each summer, and Emily really likes finding unusual plants, bugs or snails in the woods. They are all interested in bigger animals, like dogs, penguins, and dinosaurs. Sara's favorite is triceratops.

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