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Research Kapteyn Institute Blaauw lecture

History Professor Adriaan Blaauw

Professor Blaauw was born in Amsterdam in 1914. He studied at Leiden University and worked from 1938 in Groningen with Professor P.J. van Rhijn. In 1945 he went back to Leiden but shortly after, he finished his thesis which resulted in his promotion with Professor Van Rhijn at the RUG in 1946. His thesis was titled: "A study of the Scorpio-Centaurus cluster".


In the following years he worked twice during a longer period at the Yerkes observatory in Chicago and took part in astrometry expeditions to Kenya, organised by Leiden University, in which precise positions of stars were measured. In 1953, he left for an appointment as associate professor at the Yerkes Observatory and the University of Chicago. In 1957, he returned to Groningen to become director of the "Sterrenkundig Laboratorium Kapteyn". He was very successful as director and managed to revive astronomy in Groningen after a bad period, and bring it back to the prominent position it had at the time of Kapteyn.

Professor Blaauw was closely involved in the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) which is now a leader in astronomy worldwide, with the world's largest optical telescope at Paranal, Chile. From 1970 until 1975 he was General Director. At the end of his term he decided to go to Leiden where he stayed until his pension in 1981. During that time he was President of the International Astronomical Union (IAU). He also led the process of defining the scientific programme for the very successful astrometric satellite Hipparcos. After his pension, Professor Blaauw returned to Groningen where he was connected to the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute as emeritus professor.


Besides his prestigious international positions he has continued doing research throughout his career. His area of research is the structure of our Galaxy and the formation of stars. His main contributions are the explanation of the origin of stars that move with high velocity in our galaxy and the description of star formation in associations.

After his retirement in 1981, Professor Blaauw returned to the Kapteyn Institute in Groningen. In his later years he wrote books on the history of the IAU and of ESO, as well as historical studies of the characteristic farms in the province of Drenthe. He remained active in research on young stellar groups, on "runaways" and their relationship with pulsars and supernovae, and he played an active role in scientific discussions at the Kapteyn Institute. Up to his final months he gave numerous interviews and presentations on the history of Dutch and worldwide astronomy. He passed away on December 1st, 2010.


Every year the Kapteyn Institute organises the Blaauw lecture.

Last modified:13 February 2024 09.43 a.m.
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