Robert P. Kraft


Honorary Degree (1995)
Doctor of Science
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand


Robert Kraft is an internationally recognized leader in astronomical research and science administration. A professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Kraft has made exceptional research contributions in diverse areas of stellar and galactic astronomy. During his distinguished career, Kraft has served both the national and international astronomy communities. He has been president of the American Astronomical Society, and a member of the boards of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He currently is president-elect of the International Astronomical Union.

Kraft was born in Seattle, Washington. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1955, Kraft worked at the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories in Pasadena, California, as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow before joining the faculty of Indiana University in 1956. From Indiana he went to the University of Chicago in 1958, then returned to the Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories in 1960. Kraft became a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1967.

During his more than 40 years of research, Kraft has carried out spectroscopic and photometric observations for various classes of stars and has interpreted the results in terms of mechanisms of star formation and evolution. Some of Kraft's early papers, particularly those on dwarf novae and stellar rotation, are classics in the field and are still read and quoted today. In 1962 he was awarded the Helen B. Warner prize by the American Astronomical Society for his milestone work on the binarity of cataclysmic variables. The significance of Kraft's research led to his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1971 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973. Kraft recently has focused his efforts on trying to understand the origin of the galactic halo, the differences between globular clusters and field stars in the halo, whether or not the globular clusters and field stars have the same origin, and the reasons for the composition differences between globular clusters. In January the American Astronomical Society named Kraft the 1995 Henry Norris Russell Lecturer, an award for lifetime achievement in astronomy.

Kraft's administrative work has been equally impressive. After serving for brief periods as the acting director of Lick Observatory, one of the foremost observatories in the United States, Kraft was named director in 1981. He became the director of the University of California Observatories in 1988. Of his many achievements as head of Lick Observatory, Kraft's most significant was the building of the Keck 10-meter telescope in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, jointly with Caltech. This telescope, the largest optical telescope in the world, has recently begun to produce data. Kraft's contributions to the field of astronomy will also continue into the future in the form of direct leadership. A past vice president of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the current president-elect, Kraft will become president of the IAU in 1997. Only the fifth U.S. citizen elected to this office since the IAU was founded in 1919, Kraft will lead the organization until the year 2000. It is especially appropriate for Indiana University to award this honor to a former faculty member in the centennial year of the founding of the Astronomy Department.

Kraft's endeavors in both astronomical research and administration have been characterized by energy and insight. As John Graham of the Carnegie Institute of Washington sums it up, "His detailed knowledge and constant enthusiasm make him a joy to work with."