Sidney Carne Wolff '62
Sidney Carne Wolff is a “starblazer,” the first woman to serve as director of a major U.S. observatory and to have led the construction of six premier telescopes. She also is the founding editor of Astronomy Education Review. In addition, Wolff’s research on stellar atmospheres and the evolution, formation, and composition of stars (particularly A-type stars) is internationally recognized.
After earning a BA magna cum laude from Carleton as a Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi astronomy major, Wolff completed a PhD in astronomy in 1966 at the University of California–Berkeley. Carleton awarded her an honorary doctor of science degree in 1985.
Since 2008 Wolff has been president of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope Corporation; from 2001–2008 she was an astronomer with the National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO). Having begun her professional career as a research associate at Lick Observatory in 1966, Wolff rose to be the associate director of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii (1976 1984) before moving into a series of directorships (Kitt Peak National Observatory, 1984–1987; Gemini Project, 1992–1994; and NOAO, 1987–2001). Her tenure as director of NOAO marked the first time a woman had directed a major U.S. observatory.
Wolff was president of the American Astronomical Society from 1992–1994 and of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific from 1984–1986, among other leadership positions she has held with both organizations. She has served the National Research Council (NCR) in many capacities since 1981, including as chair of the task group addressing the usefulness and availability of NASA’s space mission data in 2002.
Co-author of two widely used introductory level astronomy textbooks— Abell’s Exploration of the Universe (1995) and Voyages Through the Universe (2003)— Wolff also has written more than 200 refereed scientific contributions.
Wolff received the American Astronomical Society Education Prize in 2006 and the Meritorious Public Service Award from the National Science Foundation in 1994. In February 2010 a vista point in Chile was dedicated as Vista Sidney Wolff as a tribute to her leadership in construction of the SOAR and Gemini telescopes in the Andes.
Wolff has served on Carleton’s Board of Trustees since 1989; she also was a member of Carleton’s Presidential Search Committee in 2001 and served on her class’s 50th reunion planning committee. She and her husband, Richard J. Wolff ’62, live in Tucson, Arizona.