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03/11/1999 08:00:00

Caltech astronomer elected president of the American Astronomical Society

PASADENA—Anneila Sargent, professor of astronomy at the California Institute of Technology and director of Caltech's Owens Valley Radio Observatory, has been elected president of the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

Her term of office as president-elect will begin in June, and she will serve as president from June 2000 to June 2002, said AAS spokesperson Steve Maran.

Sargent, a native of Scotland, is an authority on star formation in the Milky Way and other galaxies. Most recently she has been investigating the way in which stars like the sun are created and evolve.

With her collaborators and postdoctoral scholars, she uses the Owens Valley millimeter-wave array, and the Keck Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, to search for and study other potential planetary systems. Her interests range from the earliest stages of star formation, when dense cores in interstellar clouds collapse to form stars, to the epochs when individual planets may be born. This field has garnered considerable interest within the scientific community, as well as from the news media and the general public, because of the possibility of locating other worlds outside the solar system.

Sargent cochaired a 1996 workshop at the request of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to assess the major questions of space science and how U.S. programs can promote discovery to address those questions, and to plan for future steps in space exploration and research. Titled "The Search for Origins," the workshop report summarized the findings of three dozen of the leading biologists, planetary scientists, astronomers, and cosmologists in the country, and led to a workshop headed by Vice President Al Gore.

Currently, she is also a member of the Board of Associated Universities Inc., the Space Telescope Institute Council, and the National Research Council's decadal astronomy and astrophysics survey committee.

She was also a member of the 1995 Gordon Conference on the Origins of Solar Systems, the 1995 blue-ribbon panel on NASA's proposed exploration of neighboring planetary systems, and the 1993 National Research Council's committee on astronomy and astrophysics, and she was vice-chair of the 1993 NRC task group on the SIRTF and SOFIA infrared space missions.

Born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland, Sargent earned her bachelor of science degree with honors in physics from the University of Edinburgh. After completing her doctorate in astronomy at Caltech in 1977, she joined the Institute as a research fellow in astronomy, and as a member of the professional staff. She was appointed a senior research fellow in 1988, and a senior research associate in 1990.

She was named associate director of the Owens Valley Radio Observatory in 1992, became executive director in 1996, and director in 1998. During the same year, she was also appointed a professor of astronomy.

Her major honors include the 1998 NASA Public Service Medal, which she was awarded in part for her work on the Space Science Advisory Committee and as a member of the NASA Council. Her Caltech honors include the 1998 Woman of the Year award. She is married to Wallace Sargent, who is also a Caltech professor of astronomy, and director of Palomar Observatory. The Sargents have two daughters, Lindsay Sargent and Alison Hubbs.

Written by Robert Tindol