SIRTF Profiles: Dr. William Reach
Deputy Head of Science Staff, Infrared Processing and Analsys Center / SIRTF Science Center
I am an astronomer at the SIRTF Science Center in Pasadena, California. I've been fortunate to have worked and
studied in such interesting places as the
Institut d'Astrophysique Spatial in Paris,
NASA Goddard near Washington DC,
University of California,
Arecibo Observatory in
Puerto Rico, and
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
Living in all these different places, and especially spending time out of the country, has been been very significant to me. Puerto Rico may be technically part of the US, but it is really very different, and of course they speak Spanish! I realized pretty fast that in other countries they not only had "a different word for everything" but they didn't think or care about very many of the same things I was used to.
I've always wanted to be an astronomer. Thinking about what "always" means, I do have a clear memory, which may be partially mixed up with Carl Sagan's memories described in his fabulous Cosmos book and TV show, of looking at the stars and wanting to know what they were when I was little. The only real "evidence" of this early desire is a signal event when my grandfather took me to the planetarium when I was 5 years old and living in New York. They showed stars and galaxies with different shapes and colors, but also some sensationalistic UFO stuff. The best part was when they did an experiment of hurling a shiny hubcap into the sky. The photograph of that hubcap looked just like some of the UFO pictures, and a sceptic was born. Ever since then, I preferred the natural over the supernatural.
Some of you may wonder what it is to be an astronomer and how I got here. Yes, it is true, you have to go to school a long time. Actually, if you add it up, it amounts to 22 years! But the last 6 of these years was graduate school, which was mostly independent research. And I got paid in graduate school, which is common in the experimental sciences, because you do research in your advisor's lab. It wasn't much, but it was enough to get by. If you want to
go into a career like mine, then money is probably secondary to you. This obviously won't please all the grown-ups around you. While I was working in temporary jobs and uncertain whether I would be able to find a real job in astronomy, my grandmother kept telling my grandfather that he "never should have taken me to that [...] planetarium." But in the end, it worked out for me, and I'm sure glad he did!