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Generations reunite to celebrate astronomer Haynes

If there were a manual for new professors at Cornell, said astronomy department chair Ira Wasserman, Martha Haynes' career would be cited as a perfect example of how the job should be done.

But when Haynes, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, entered the field in 1978, there were few role models -- and definitely no manuals -- for women scientists. So on top of her work as a researcher, she worked to become a mentor to the next generation.

Last weekend, she saw some of the fruits of her labor.

More than 100 people -- dozens of current and former students and advisees, along with colleagues, friends and even her former Ph.D. adviser -- gathered May 14 and 15 for a symposium, "Galaxies: not WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get)," celebrating Haynes' 60th birthday. The event was hosted by the Friends of Astronomy.

Much of the focus was on Haynes' leading research on the formation and evolution of galaxies; and the day featured presentations on all things galactic, from dust in galaxies to star formation in galaxies to colliding, well, galaxies.

Riccardo Giovanelli, professor of astronomy, gave an update on CCAT, the Cornell-led planned 25-meter telescope for submillimeter astronomy in the high desert of northern Chile. CCAT, which is scheduled to see first light in 2017, was recently ranked the highest priority among medium scale, ground-based projects by the National Research Council's Astro2010 survey.

Speakers also highlighted the contributions of ALFALFA, an Arecibo Observatory-based extragalactic search for faint cosmic radio signals.

ALFALFA is unique for its emphasis on bringing undergraduates into the research process, said Union College astronomer Becky Koopmann. "It was Martha's brainchild to make sure that the future generations of students are learning about radio astronomy," Koopmann said.

Ann Martin, Ph.D. '11, first worked with Haynes and Giovanelli as an undergraduate on a summer research project. "I loved them so much I came back to spend six years here," she said.

And Haynes has been much more than a thesis adviser, she said.

"She's always there with subtle guidance and suggestions ... and as you get older and wiser, you realize that she has a trajectory in mind for you," Martin said. "She sees you as a whole person. It is very much like having a home away from home."

Sabrina Stierwalt, Ph.D. '09, a former Haynes advisee now at Caltech, noted the gender disparity in astronomy and physics. When Haynes earned her Ph.D. in 1978, Stierwalt said, 10.5 percent of doctorate students in the physical sciences were women. In 2009, it was around 33 percent.

"Being the fearless woman that she is, she has been a great mentor and role model for female scientists," Stierwalt said. She added a word of gratitude -- "for breaking down doors, so that I could just simply walk through them."

For Haynes, the reunion offered a look back, and ahead.

When she came to Cornell, she said, she was among the first women on the faculty in the sciences, and female graduate students worked primarily with her.

Over the years, she saw the numbers of women grow. Now, those graduate students are advising the next generation.

"So now I still enjoy having women students," she said, "but I also enjoy knowing that my colleagues do too.

"The most satisfying thing here is to see all of these students come back," she said. "It means [my] career is worth it. And it also means the future of astronomy is in good hands."

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Blaine Friedlander