Dr. Robert A. Schommer (1946-2001)


Among the many scientists intrigued by cosmology and stellar populations, Dr. Robert A. Schommer was one of the few that furthered his career with it. He was known for his wide range of research interests. Robert received a Bachelor's degree in Physics at the University of Chicago and a Master's in Physics at the University of Washington. After that, he transferred to the Washington Astronomy Department and a received his Ph.D. He continued two years of his science studies in Seminary College in Chicago. During Robert's years as an astronomy student, he and friend Ron Canterna decided to explore the outer halo of the Milky Way. They came to find that there was not all they expected there to be which led them to discover the first carbon star in the galaxy. Robert realized there could be more to the galaxy than what he had expected and he decided to study more about it.

During Robert’s time as an astronomy student, he came across the Washington photometric system and found the first carbon star in the dwarf galaxy. He began to study the content of the dwarf galaxy. During this time, he studied the content of galaxies in many close clusters using collected data. Bob went to the California Institute of Technology in 1977. He began his studies there of the stellar content of Magellanic Cloud clusters. After that, he spent a year in Seattle, Washington as an instructor where he taught galactic astronomy. Years later, Robert became a professor in the physics department at Rutgers University in New Jersey for about ten years. Throughout this time, his study included some of the first CCD-imaging (device in which the individual semiconductor components are connected so that the electrical charge at the output of one device provides the input to the next device) and LMC clusters (an irregular cloud of stars in the constellation Doradus). This showed how different the cluster systems were. On his free time, Bob attempted to reject the concept of tenure which caused him to refuse to sign his initial tenure papers at Rutgers.

Bob was introduced to the public by public relations departments and popular science magazines. From the earliest days, Bob always kept a positive attitude. He always treated everyone the way he wanted to be treated. Bob also wanted everyone to help each other and always gave freely of his own time. Bob never had any complaints and was friendly with everyone that was ever around him. He made sure that everyone he was around felt loved and as if they were his close friend which made their jobs (if any) more enjoyable and always helped get the job done.

Schommer's studies helped all people understand the chemical histories of the galaxies. He was a well-rounded member of the "High-z Supernova Search Team" and helped write a paper they published in 1998 describing the universe with a cosmological constant. Bob was awarded with the AURA Science Achievement Award in 1999. Robert later took over the management of the U.S. Gemini Project Office as the project scientist. On December 12, 2001, he committed suicide in La Serena, Chile. He did this because he became unhappy with a lack of support he was receiving. After the death, the AURA (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy) started the Schommer Children's Fund to help the Schommer family with future college expenses for their children.